Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist in the City of London. Originally published by Harrison, London, 1875.
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III. THE HALL.
1. The earliest date assigned to the Company's acquisition of their estate in Threadneedle Street, upon which their hall stands, is the year 1331. Accepting the authority of Stowe (who, as loving brother of the fraternity, would have a special interest in recording the facts), we may assume that the Company purchased the site "from a worshipful gentleman, named Edmond Crepin (Dominus Creping, after some records)," and that it was conveyed "by the name of his principal messuage in the wards of Cornhill and Broad Street (which Sir Oliver Ingham, Knight, did then hold), to John Yakley, the king's pavilion maker," for the use of the Company.
2. Fortunately a record of such a conveyance (still extant) has recently been printed (as rendered from the Latin (fn. 1)) by Mr. Riley, and from this record it will be seen to be a feoffment made by Edmund, the son of Walter Crepin, late citizen of London, to John de Yakeslee, tentmaker to our Lord the King of England. The parcels are thus given:—"All that principal dwelling-house which he the said Edmund had in the parishes of St. Peter, Cornhill, St. Benedict Fynke, and St. Martin de Oteswyche, in the wards of Cornhulle (fn. 2) and Bradestrete, in the City of London, with the great gate of the same dwelling-house towards Cornhulle, and with the sollar (fn. 3) above the same gate built, and also with another great gate of the same dwelling-house towards Bradestrete, together with ingress and egress to and from the dwelling aforesaid, as well by the same great gate towards Cornhulle as by the said gate towards Bradestrete, and together with all appurtenances to the same dwelling-house within the said two gates whatsoever pertaining."
3. The premises marked off as a portion only of what Crepin owned, are thus further described:—"Which dwellinghouse aforesaid, Sir Oliver Ingham, Knight, has hitherto held of the aforesaid Edmund, and inhabited the same, it being situate in breadth between the tenement of William de Manhale, the tenement of Agnes Rikeman, the tenement of Sir Henry de Coventre, the late Rector of the Church St. Brigid, in Fletestrete, and the tenement of which John de Totenham, carpenter, holds of the aforesaid Edmund towards the east; the tenement of the said Edmund, the tenement of the Friars of St. Austin, in London, which Thomas Lyoun holds for the term of his life, and the tenement of the late Henry de Shorne, towards the west; and extending lengthwise from the king's highway up Cornhulle, and from the tenements of the said Edmund, towards the south; as far as the tenement of which the aforesaid John de Totenham, carpenter, holds of the said Edmund, and the king's highstreet of Bradestrete towards the north."
4. The deed purports to be sealed by the said Edmund, in that civic year in which the Lord Mayor and others were thus named:—"John De Pulteney, (fn. 4) then being Mayor of the City of London, John de Mockinge, Andrew Aubrie, Sheriffs of the same City, John Hauteyn, Alderman of the Ward of Bredestrete, and Henry de Gisorz, Alderman of the Ward of Cornhulle." The witnesses were, "Hugh de Waltham, John Payntel," and others. The place in which the deed was executed was London, and the date "the Sunday next after the Feast of St. John Port Latin [6th May], that is to say, on the 10th day of the month of May aforesaid."
5. It is clear from this description that the houses now forming the north side of Threadneedle Street did not then exist, and hence that after the location of the Company in the street, the name of Threeneedles, and afterwards Threadneedle was adopted, from their employment.
6. Further it would appear that Crepin's grant extended from Broad Street (as it then existed), with a gate or entrance therefrom, up to Cornhill, (fn. 5) and that the gateway with the room over it abutted upon Cornhill (even with the other tenements of Crepin), which formed the southern boundary to the residue of the land purchased from him. On the east of this area, that is on the side of St. Martin's, four tenements then existed, and on the west, that is, towards Finch Lane, two tenements only.
7. The various additions which have been made by the Company to the original grant are shown in outline (according to the information available to me) upon the plan prepared by Mr. I'Anson. On the east side of the Hall the first acquisition was that made from John Churchman (fn. 6) in 1406, of houses in Bishopsgate Street (4 of which were sold in 1688) and in Threadneedle Street, with land adjacent to St. Martin's Church, upon part of which 7 almshouses were built by the Company in 1414. I may notice that between the Hall and St. Martin's (or, as another record states, between the almshouses and a messuage belonging to the Company in the tenure of the Master) a certain tenement and an alley existed. This tenement of the value of 4l. per annum, falling into the hands of the Crown at the Reformation, was offered to the Company, at 30 years' purchase, by the Queen's Commissioners, and the transaction was completed on the 24th of March 1589, by a bargain and sale (enrolled in Chancery) between Roger Ranute and Peter Whitcombe, Gents., Her Majesty's Patentees, of the one part, and the Master of the other. Adjacent to Churchman's land in Threadneedle Street other tenements were purchased for the Company by Robert Dowe, which the deed of 28th August 1605 describes as "two tenements and one alley situate between the Company's almshouses on the east side and their tenement next adjoining new Common Hall, late in the tenure of George Sotherton, Merchant Taylor, on the west side." (fn. 7)
8. On the west side of the Hall, a house then known as the "Grasshopper (fn. 8) in Threadneedle Street," was purchased with Peter Blundell's money for 150l., and conveyed to the Company in 43 Elizabeth (1601), the houses adjacent (known originally as the "Cock") (fn. 9) in Finch Lane, having been purchased and conveyed to the Company as "5 or more dwelling houses" in 1595.
9. On 3rd July 1633 the following entry is found in the Court Minutes (1633; p. 178):—"An Agreement made to purchase of Mr. Norton a garden plot of ground adjoyning to the King's Chamber on the south, upon parte whereof a small parte of the King's Chamber doth stand—and afterwards a Comee was appointed to treat with Mr. Norton for the purchase of the ground adjoyning wherein the old Hall, or building, or Hall and other buildings late in the occupation of Slaney, decd, rainging with the wall of the Companie's garden on the south side, without wch said last-mentioned ground this Court did not think fit to proceed with the purchase of thother ground. Mr. Norton desired the Company to conclude with him for the first recited contract without thother part of the ground, intimating to the Court that the purchase of thother ground might as yett for some reasons prove very inconvenient to him, but promised that as soone as he had agreed with Sir Petere Hayman's (fn. 10) sonne for the whole purchase, then he will assure the said other ground unto this Company. . . . Whereupon this Court doe think fitt to confirm their first order." Mr. Robert Gray was subsequently appointed to take a conveyance of this property for the Company. (fn. 11)
10. On the south-east corner towards Cornhill, a purchase was made in 1646, to which the following Minutes relate:— "This day Mrs. Browne offered to this Company two messuages —situate on the east side of Redcrosse Yard, adjoyning the Back Gate and a tenemt and a shop in Bishopsgate Street, in the Parish of St. Peter's: agreed with Mrs. Browne that she shall have 14 years' purchase for the said tenemts at the rent as they are now lett."—[3rd June 1646.]
" Ordered that Hugh Best, vintner, tenant of the Star (fn. 12) Tavern, lately purchased of Mrs. Browne, shall have a doore and passage out of the back part of his house into Red Cross Yard at the Back Gate, he paying 6s. 8d. per ann. for the same, and to give our Master a fat bucke against his election."— [8th July 1646.]
"Hugh Best, tenant of the Star Tavern in Bishopsgate Street, belonging to the Company, having been allowed, in consideration of his great rent (57l. a-year), to open a back door into Redcrosse Yard, further prays that he may have a 'Signe and Bush (fn. 13) upon Mr. Mould's tenemt in Cornhill, without which the doore wilbe of little use to him.' Referred to the Wardens."—[20th June 1647.]
11. The garden or open spaces around the Hall were originally equal to those surrounding a country mansion, but they soon became covered with buildings, and the houses adjacent were near enough to destroy privacy. This is noticeable in the record of the visit of King James I. to the Company in 1607, when the Court agreed to "build up the garden wall adjoining to the Tavern (probably the 'Grasshopper'), to take away the prospect of those walking on the leads of the tavern," and thereby overlooking the garden. However, there was a bowling alley and a grass plot in the garden, so that in 1625 the East India Company applied that liberty might be given to the Persian Ambassador to walk therein for his recreation. (fn. 14)
12. Such spaces were absolutely needed for the stowage of the various articles which the necessities of those times obliged the Company to keep for their own security or the benefit of the civic community; thus, the Ordinances of Henry VII. directed the Master and Wardens to purchase at the fair of Kingstonon-Thames, timber and materials for the repair of their houses and having purchased them, to keep them in store "within (fn. 15) the Hall." The gunpowder and arms, (fn. 16) which the Company purchased by command of the Lord Mayor or Privy Council, were also stored upon the Hall premises; the arms being placed in the gallery over the King's Chamber (fn. 17) (under the care of an armourer at a wage of 40s. per annum). (fn. 18) In 1621, it was thought expedient to transfer the gunpowder to a more convenient place, "over the banquetting house in the garden," and there it remained (as in the "gunpowder house"), probably until the store was exhausted by demands made for ammunition during the rebellion. The corn, up to 1590, was kept in one of twelve granaries, provided by the city for the twelve Companies, but after that date each Company had to provide storage at their halls, and for many years a granary keeper was an established official of the Company.
13. When the present Hall and the accessories were built (assuming, as I do, that they were not entirely destroyed in 1666) is only a matter of conjecture. (fn. 19) From Goodman's plan of St. Martin, some year after 1405 (fn. 20) has been assigned as the date of the Hall, and the entertainments that were given prove the size, before the fire, to have been large enough for the assembly of a great number of guests; (fn. 21) King James I. being entertained in 1607, the Princess Elizabeth and the Elector Palatine in January 1614, (fn. 22) and the Corporation in alternate years, until the Guildhall was completed in 1501 for the Lord Mayor's annual banquet. (fn. 23)
14. The early account books make mention of the following particulars relating to the Hall premises (fn. 24):—In 1399, the chapel; in 1406–7, the kitchen, the fountain, and the slates for roofing, the oven, the sewing place, the Hall and the aumerie; in 1408–9, the larder house, the sotel house, the parlor, the image of St. John, and the vines in the garden; in 1413–14, the pantry, the maison crowle, and the chapel chamber; in 1419–20, the great parlor; in 1421–2, the well, the windlass, the privy, the counting house, the schoolmaster's alley and the cloth chamber; in 1422–3, the grand chamber, the coal house in the yard, the treasury, and the stable; in 1426–7, the clerk's house, the store (fn. 25) house, and the shed; in 1430–1, the priest's chamber near the gate; in 1432–3, the schoolmaster's house; in 1433–4, the lodge, the buttery, the scalding yard, troughs for chickens and capons, the long parlor and the wafer house; and in 1440 the school house.
15. From the inventory (fn. 26) of the Company's effects, taken in John Tresawell's Mastership (in 1512) by "Henry Mayour, Common Clerk of the Fraternity," it is clear that these buildings were then grouped near the Hall—the position of the chapel, with the chapel chamber, being described elsewhere, in the same year, as "to the eastward of the Hall," (fn. 27) probably the present crypt or kitchens forming part of it.
16. The Hall itself, up to the year 1573 used for acting of plays or masks, (fn. 28) must have been a comfortless place, according to our modern notions of comfort. In 1584, a new roof (fn. 29)— whatever the original may have been—was put on, consisting of slate, and in 1587 the windows appear to have been glazed, with the names of benefactors inserted therein. The walls were bare, or rather whitewashed (except where the hanging tapestry intervened) until 1619, and the floor was earth, covered with rushes, until July 1646, when being found "inconvenient and oftentimes noisome" the Court ordered it to be "paved with red tile, to be done by the bricklayer."
17. At the west end of the Hall, in or about the year 1602, the room now known as the "King's Chamber" was added. It is apparent from what has been already written that the room stood on the verge of the Company's estate, and overlapped the land of adjacent owners. The first entry having reference to it is dated August 1593, when counsel was taken with a carpenter dwelling in Houndsditch that a convenient site might be selected, so that the light at the west end of the Hall might be preserved undiminished. In the account of Mr. Gore's expenditure in 1602, the particulars of the wainscotting of this chamber are set out.
18. The furniture of the Hall and of other rooms is described in the inventories of effects which are printed elsewhere. The luxury of a Turkey carpet was obtained for the table in the King's Chamber in 1604, and it appears to have been so much in request that the Court deemed it prudent to interdict the loan or removal thereof. In 1618, a fair needle work carpet was substituted. (fn. 30)
19. The great characteristic of the Hall was the tapestry (fn. 31) illustrating the life and death of the Patron Saint, St. John Baptist, which, but for its disfigurement by order of the fanatics of the Great Rebellion, remained without injury till it was finally sold by the Company in 1732. (fn. 32)
20. During the Rebellion (1648) the Hall was freed from the quartering of soldiers by Lord Fairfax's Warrant of Protection, (fn. 33) though the exemption was purchased by a gift made to one Mr. Gravenor, the Quarter Master, who was a member of the Company. In 1650, after the King had been beheaded, and a Commonwealth established, "new arms" were provided, and "the King's Arms and Picture, standing in the Common Hall," were destroyed.
21. The Great Fire of 1666 injured the Hall premises, but the comparison of the buildings described in the record of the visit of James I., (fn. 34) with others described in the Court Minutes relating to the restoration of the premises, after the "dreadful fire," leads me to the conclusion that the destruction was only partial. (fn. 35) The present existence and consequent preservation of many things within the Hall buildings at the date of the fire, is another evidence that these at any rate did not fall under itspower.
22. The fire happened in September 1666, and from an inspection, in the Guildhall library, of Leake's plan, made in 1667–8 (by order of the Corporation, for the use of the Commissioners appointed to determine all questions arising as to ownership and rebuilding), and of Ogilvy's map of 1677, I understand the fire to have been stayed in the street before it reached the Church of St. Martin, and consequently before it had consumed all the Company's buildings, though the plans are not so minute as to show the extent to which the Hall and parts adjacent to it were destroyed.
23. The first meeting of the Court after the fire was held on the 21st September, when orders were given (as before noticed) for securing the plate melted " in the Treasury by the Hall." No other reference is made to the destruction of the Hall, though that of other premises held by the Company's tenants is referred to, and orders were issued for the assembly of an Estate Committee to agree with those tenants for rebuilding their houses.
24. The next meeting was on the 12th October, when directions were given—1st, to cover in the adjacent almshouses and make them "wind tide and water-tide"—evidence that these buildings were not wholly destroyed—and then "that a parlor where the old one stood, and a room over that with a garret be forthwith built that the Company may have a roome to keep their Courts in."
25. At the same Court "the ground where the Company's kitchen lately stood" was let at a peppercorn rent for five years "for a warehouse," in consideration that the tenant (Colonel Mew) "make a substantial roof thereunto," an evidence, I think, that the walls of that building were then standing.
26. The parlor was not completed in the February succeeding, for at a Court of the 8th it was ordered "that the same should be finished with all convenient speed." This "parlor" being, as I apprehend, the present Court Room, which, under that name, was rebuilt in 1770 at a cost of 880l.
27. In June 1667 the Hall must have continued in ruins, for at a Court of the 26th the Master and Wardens were directed "to save all the pewter, iron, and lead that can be found at or about the Hall, till the Company shall dispose thereof," and in November (at a Court of the 6th) the Court resolved that the revenue of the Company should not be made use of or towards the re-building the Hall until the principal money due by the Company be paid.
28. That the Hall, though possibly gutted, with the roof lost, was not entirely destroyed, is evidenced by the assembly of the whole Livery therein to keep Lord Mayor's day in 1668, for I find that a Committee of the Court, held on the 12th October for raising funds to defray the charges of that Festival, appear to have thought it time for the Company to meet again in the Hall in celebration thereof. Accordingly, they ordered "that tables be forthwith set up in the Company's Hall, and sheds made over whereby the Company may entertain the whole Livery on the Mayor's day," and in the Master's accounts for that year a sum of 48l. 10s. is charged for "500 large deals to make sheds in the Hall," and 20l. 10s. for the "carpenters."
29. At the close of the year 1669 (fn. 36) a Committee was formed to raise subscriptions for "re-building the Hall after the fire, with such other rooms and conveniences" as they should see fit. During the period ending in 1673–4, sums amounting to a total of 741l. 0s. 6d. are traced as received, and the payments made during a period ending in 1674–5 amount to 2,018l. 19s. (fn. 37)
31. No plans or estimates remain to show the nature of the work done, and the habit of the times was evidently to contract separately with each artificer for his work in stone or wood, as the case might be. An entry under date of 30th April 1675, requesting the Master "to pay the Mason for raising the hall and other petty works done for the Company," may be explained by the fact that in 1843 the Hall ceiling was found to rest on wooden planks placed upon the stone and covered with cement and stucco to resemble stone.
33. Among the "conveniences" were houses for the clerk and beadle, which the Court, on the 16th October 1674, ordered to be built "upon columns," leaving (though the Minute is silent upon it) a passage under the houses from the street to the Hall at the east end thereof. That these houses were so built is evidenced by their remaining in situ until 1843, when, on their removal, the columns were replaced at the present western entrance of the Hall, where they now stand, though increased in size and with capitals added.
34. The other rooms with which we are familiar as the "Court," "Drawing," and "Dining" rooms, appear to have been built in 1681. The position of the "large staircase" was always accepted, but the original intention of the Court (determined upon the 4th November 1680) seems to have been to rebuild the two latter rooms (then called the "King's Chamber," and "Council Chamber") in their old position "at the west end of the Hall," at an estimated cost of 617l.
35. In May 1681 (fn. 38) it was, however, suggested (upon a Report then submitted to the Court) that it would "be much better, more commodious and pleasant to build the same on the left hand of the staircase, across the garden and fronting the parlor," and further, as the Report suggests " that there shall be a gallery (where the King's Chamber was intended to be built) looking into the Hall, level with the building on the left hand of the staircase, and under the said gallery to be made into several rooms for larders and other conveniences." Accordingly, this plan was adopted, and the settlement of the builder's account in January 1683 shows the cost of these works to have been as follows:—The Committee allowed for 10½ squares of building "where the late King's Chamber stood" (i.e. for "the gallery looking into the Hall") at 32l. per square=336l. and for 25¾ squares of building of "the new Council Chamber or Parlor and King's Chamber over the same," at 40l. per square, measured by Mr. Browne=1,030l.
36. The fire so reduced the Company's resources that the Hall and the rooms adjacent had to be let out at the best rent that could be obtained from competent and respectable tenants. The East India Company rented the Hall at 200l. in 1728–30, and held their meetings there so late as 1767. The business of the South Sea Company, before their own premises were built, was there carried on, and meetings in relation to the bubble before it absolutely burst were also held in the Hall. It may interest other readers to know that before the present Freemason's Hall was built, the meetings of their Grand Lodge were frequently held in the Company's Hall, and that from 1723 to 1767 four of the Grand Masters were there installed into office. (fn. 39)
37. The miscellaneous purposes for which the Hall was used, possibly suggested the propriety of removing from the walls the distinctive garniture (already alluded to) with which they had been originally clothed. During the years 1728–31 the Hall premises were redecorated, and though Maitland, writing in 1756, and others at a later date, refer to the old, very curious and valuable tapestry as ornamenting the Hall, it is certain that it did not then exist on the walls.
38. Little remains to be written of the subsequent history of the Hall premises. In the year 1765 they were again threatened with destruction "by a Great Fire which happened at the east side of the Hall," and destroyed part of the kitchen. Breaking out on the 7th, the meeting of the Livery on the 9th of November had to be postponed, though the Hall itself was not in any degree injured by the fire. (fn. 40)
39. In 1843 substantial improvements were made. The houses in front of the Hall facing Treadneedle Street were rebuilt, and the entrances to the Hall were improved. At the east end the old houses of the Clerk and Beadle (standing on pillars) were cleared away, and the entrance court there was covered by the houses and clerk's offices. At the west end, the space under the Gallery to the King's Chamber, which had been left "for larder and other conveniences" (as the members of 1681 had suggested), was converted into a new entrance, and the old pillars taken from the east were placed in situ as they now stand at the west end.
40. The last improvement is of very recent date. At the close of the Mastership for 1869–70, the retiring Master (Edward Masterman, Esq.) invited the Court to place on the south side of the Hall the corridor which now adorns it. The windows of the corridor are filled with stained glass (fn. 41) by Messrs. Heaton and Co., the subject being the contest, (fn. 42) the award, (fn. 43) and the feast (fn. 44) (following upon the award), between the two Companies of Skinners and Merchant Taylors in 1484–5. There is, however, one window of stained glass outside the corridor and adjacent to the present Court Room, which must not pass unnoticed, for it contains the picture of Sir Thomas White, painted from his portrait, taken, as tradition says, after his decease, from his sister, distinguished for her close resemblance to him.