The Pinners' and Wiresellers' Book, 1462-1511. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 2009.
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The Pinners' Book (BL MS Egerton 1142) now rests in the British Library. An entry on the second sheet in the new binding records that it was purchased on 16 October 1846 from I. B. Nicholls, Esq. Its chief purpose was that of an audit book, recording the biennial accounts made by the outgoing wardens at the end of their two-year term of office. The first accounts cover the years 1462–1464 and the volume continued to be used for this purpose even after 1497, when the Pinners amalgamated with the Wiredrawers, to become the new company of the Wiresellers. The last entry is dated 1511.
The first accounts cover the years 1462–1464 and the book may well have been begun as a result of the 'Charter' of 1463, in which Edward IV responded to the petitions of many small 'luxury' crafts for protection from the competition of increasing imports of similar foreign goods. (fn. 1) With royal protection thus assured, the Pinners took steps to set their affairs in order and, if possible, to establish themselves as a craft of recognised standing. (fn. 2)
The Pinners' first action was to have an exemplification of the new 'Charter' made, as a safeguard, lest royal or civic authority later overlooked it and this, together with a copy of their original ordinances of 1356, were the first items to be entered in their new book (1–2). A calendar was also specially purchased, at a cost of 10d. and this was duly bound into the front of their new book (4).
The survival of such early craft accounts is rare. Apart from those held by some of the major merchant companies, only three sets of accounts for lesser crafts are known to have survived from the fifteenth century. (fn. 3) Of these, only the accounts of the Carpenters have been published, although detailed histories of the other two crafts, the Pewterers and the Cutlers, have been written based on their records. To date, there has been no such study of the craft of Pinners, although George Unwin, as early as 1908, drew upon their book extensively in writing his seminal The Guilds and Companies of London.
Of the Pinners' craft very little other evidence remains: the original ordinances of 1356, in Anglo-Norman, were inscribed in the London Letter Book G, making it possible to compare them with the later version in the Pinners' Book. (fn. 4) There are a few references to individuals in the later Letter Books of the City of London, scraps of information occasionally appear in the records of the London mayor's court and there are twenty-eight pinners' wills, mainly proved in the London Commissary Court. The earliest surviving will is that of John atte Hill dated 1395 (69). The paucity of evidence serves to highlight the value of this Pinners' book covering the years from 1462 to 1511. (fn. 5)
EARLY HISTORY OF THE PINNERS' CRAFT, 1278–1356
Though not formally recognised as a city craft until 1356, pinners must have been working in London for many generations before this date. Walter le Pinnere was recorded as living in the parish of St. Bartholomew, Smithfield, in 1278 and appears there again, as a mainpernour, in 1281. Will le Pynnere appeared in the ward of Bishopsgate in 1292, as a contibutor to the lay subsidy. In 1338 Richard le Pinnere was recorded as one of those from the ward of Castle Baynard chosen and sworn to safeguard the city from possible French invasion. (fn. 6)
The origins of the pin are lost in prehistory. Pins have been found, not only in Iron Age Britain, but also in the more ancient civilisations of Assyria, Egypt, Greece and Rome, used to secure the draped clothing worn, in various forms, by all these peoples. These early pins were made of bone, forged iron and copper but, some time after the end of the Roman Empire, the art of wire-drawing developed and from then on wire was the basic material for pin making. This enabled the pinners to produce pins with finer shanks and smaller heads than hitherto. (fn. 7)
The process, though relatively simple, was tripartite and involved a range of skills. First the brass wire shank had to be polished and sharpened on a knuckle bone. Attaching the head was a more complex process. First a piece of wire was wound round the upper part of the shank and soldered on to form a collar. The pin head, finely bored to fit, was then put in place and soldered on. (fn. 8) Once perfected, these processes changed little and were precisely described in 'An Acte for the true making of Pynnes' of 1544. Standard pins were there defined as 'oonelie suche as shalbe double headed and have the heades soudered faste to the Shanke of the Pynne well smethed, the Shanke well shaven the pointe well and round fyled cauted and sharped...' (fn. 9)
Lists of customs duties paid at the ports testify to the fact that, from as early as 1228, iron ore had been imported from central Europe. The English metal-working industry was booming in the fourteenth century, partly through the demand for munitions in the war against France. The pinners, though one of its lowliest branches, also benefited from a growing demand for their product: not by cause of war but of fashion. The clothes of the period reflected the improving standards of living: in particular, the elaborate swathed head-dresses of fashionable court and London ladies, which were kept in place, over wire frames, by pins. The young Princess Joan, daughter of King Edward III, included 12,000 pins in her trousseau in 1348. The accounts of the King's Wardrobe recorded large orders of pins for both the royal family and courtiers at this time: and, as the Pinners' Book shows, nuns also used many quantities of pins to secure their enshrouding head-dresses (8). The fashion continued into the fifteenth century when a new type of metal, Osmund ore from Sweden, greatly improved the work of the wiredrawer and the pinners. (fn. 10)
By 1356, the craft was in a position to present its ordinances at Guildhall for acceptance as an accredited mystery of the City. Until then, the pinners had almost certainly formed a loose association with other allied trades. The early appearance of their ordinances may have been precipitated by a rift between them and the cardmakers, who produced bats stuck with nails or pins for carding wool. (fn. 11) Such conflicts between fellow craftsmen were common and usually led to the formation of one or more separate mysteries. (fn. 12)
Sometimes craftsmen fell out among themselves. An entry in the mayor's court roll of 1364 recorded that 'certain unnamed pinners were mainprised to pay a fine of 40s. to the Chamber. William de Brakelee, pinner was mainprised to keep the peace with John Sharp, pinner...' (fn. 13)
THE ORDINANCES OF 1356: GOVERNANCE AND ADMINISTRATION
For one of the humbler crafts, the pinners registered their ordinances early, in 1356. The ordinances were designed to regulate the mystery which exercised its right to establish standards of workmanship and hours of work and to enforce them through the overall supervision by the craft of the product and its sale. Where more than one craft was involved in such supervision, disputes over the inspection of one skill by another were almost inevitable. The cardmakers would not welcome the surveillance of those who made pins, and vice versa.
When, in 1462, the pinners reorganised their affairs, they preceded the audit records with the two documents which justified their existence: a copy of the statute of 1463 conceding the points of their recent petition, known as the 'Charter', and a full copy of their fourteenth-century ordinances. This version of the ordinances may well have been copied from the entry in the city's Letter Book since there is little difference between the fifteenth-century English version and the original Anglo-Norman text.
There was a certain similarity in the ordinances of most crafts since they implicitly endorsed many long-established customs and rules already existing in the city. Each craft sought to protect itself from interlopers and to restrict the making of their products to their own members. Foreign (i.e. non citizen) pinners from outside the city of London could only exercise their skills after submitting their workmanship to the scrutiny of the craft wardens and, thereafter, on payment of a fine to join the brotherhood. In due course, if they could raise the money, they might rise from the position of a workman to that of a full brother and thence purchase for themselves the right to the freedom of the city, the status of master and the right to run a workshop and to train apprentices.
There were also prohibitions for the masters: against the poaching of fellow members' workmen and apprentices, for example, and the usual caveat that only a master might take on an apprentice. Poor workmanship and forestalling of goods would result in their destruction. It is of interest that women workers were acceptable members of the fraternity, even as workwomen but, as the ordinances expressly state, this privilege was only extended to the wives and daughters of members of the craft. As the city required, the craft accepted responsibility not only for the quality of workmanship of its members but also for their behaviour as citizens in general.
On the other hand, the craft undertook to support its covenanted workmen in times of illness until they were able to work again.
All these duties were carried out under the supervision of wardens elected every two years. At the election the accounts of the previous wardens would be presented and audited. The record of these audits is the origin of this book. On this occasion the wardens would receive, under bond, a proportion of the money belonging to the craft, transferred to them by their predecessors to hold in trust during their period of office.
There is no mention in the earlier fourteenth-century ordinances of the guild of St James, the religious fraternity which was responsible, among other things, for much personal support, and which features so frequently in the craft's fifteenth-century accounts. Since the members often met in secret, they were regarded by the government of the day as clandestine societies and, as such, might be politically suspect. It therefore may have seemed wiser not to draw attention in the ordinances to this religious fraternity.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CRAFT 1356–1462
Despite being recognised as a craft with its own ordinances, the pinners remained among the humblest members of the metal-work trades. As an artisan mystery they cut little ice in City affairs, dominated as these were by the merchants and leading craft companies. Individual pinners could be obstreperous however. In December 1371, in the mayor's court, John atte Hill, a pinner, alongside Simon Chikesond and John White, a furbour, went to prison 'for breaking a sequestration of the King's tallage', one of a number of such protests in the city at that time. (fn. 14) The pinners were to a considerable extent dependent on the patronage of those larger companies which had a professional interest in the supply of pins: notably the tailors, mercers and later the haberdashers who traded wholesale on a national scale. (fn. 15)
In the 1370s the rivalries between different crafts came to a head and in 1376 it was decided that election to the Common Council should be by the crafts rather than the traditional wards. The Pinners, along with an impressive array of metal workers, armourers, cutlers, lorimers, pewterers, plumbers, smiths and spurriers, sent representatives to the Common Council in the years 1376–81. (fn. 16) The champion of the lesser crafts was the draper, John of Northampton. When he was superseded as mayor by Nicholas Brembre in 1383, rioting followed among John's supporters. It is not, therefore, surprising to find a pinner, John Dawntre, a warden in 1378, mainprised in the sum of £100 for his future good behaviour and, by implication that of his fellow members, nor to read the names of cutlers and armourers who were similarly constrained. (fn. 17)
Only one pinner was arraigned for participation in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, a William Bylneye of Coleman Street, and, in January 1389, Margery Bromhill, widow of Hugh, a pinner, was granted a pardon 'for all offences entailing penalty of life, limb or forfeiture, between 1 October 1382 and 31 May 1388...'. This pardon presumably refers to participation in the events following the succession of Nicholas Brembre to the mayoralty and the departure of John Northampton. (fn. 18) From then on, the pinners appear to have eschewed political affiliations and concentrated on more immediate and mundane concerns. Their appearances in the mayor's court thereafter were mainly confined to matters of apprenticeship, fraud and service as mainpernors for friends and neighbours. An unusual case involving a pinner in 1377 occurred when "Robert Cheyndut was committed to prison for having undertaken to cure Walter, son of John del Hull, pinner, of a malady in his left leg, whereby owing to lack of care, the patient was in danger of losing his leg...". The plaintiff was awarded 50s. in damages (fn. 19)
The weakness of all craft ordinances was that the craft could not control or restrict wholesale trade in its products. Judicious wardens, in company with city officers, could search for clandestine retailers and manufacturers within the walls but they could not prevent wealthy merchants from dealing in large quantities on the home or foreign markets. As already shown, the pinners relied for their profits on trades and crafts which used pins in their daily work, notably the tailors and mercers. It was but a step for such men, whose businesses involved them in transactions, at both manufacturing and mercantile levels, to start selling pins on their own account. It was a phenomenon that affected many craftsmen in many trades. Even pinners trespassed into other crafts: John Godefray, was twice brought before the mayor by the Hurers (cap-makers), in 1391 and 1394, for selling false 'caps' as a sideline and was fined. (fn. 20)
Later, the haberdashers surpassed all comers in the distribution of a wide range of goods throughout the country, including pins, through travelling chapmen and fairs. According to Chaucer, moreover, even the odd friar was known to use pins as petty bribes. (fn. 21) At wholesale level, there was a thin line between the pinner and the haberdasher, but a very large one when it came to influence and prestige in the city. In the fifteenth century, two prosperous pinners bowed to the inevitable and, with mayoral approval, switched their allegiances to the haberdashers: Richard Lyon in 1432 and Thomas Byset in 1449. (fn. 22) Earlier still, in 1401, William de Coventre had declared for the mercers on the same grounds. (fn. 23) In this way these three men became eligible for city office, should it come in their direction, but it deprived the pinners of the support and interest which such men could have brought to the craft, including legacies of money and real estate. Without such help, as time was to prove, it could be difficult for a craft to survive in hard times
The mystery emerged as an embattled group in 1425 when, together with the wiredrawers and cardmakers, they came before the mayor to lodge complaints against one another. Allied trades though they were, each complained that 'within the last six or seven years some freemen of the mystery of Pynners had employed and coloured strange Wirdrawers and Cardemakers, therefore depriving the Irenwirdrawers and Cardemakers of their livelihood; also that certain freemen of the said mystery of Irenwirdrawers and Cardemakers had employed and coloured foreign Pynners, whereby many free Pynners were deprived of their livelihood, and thus dissension had oftentimes arisen.' It was a classic dispute of that period. Such invasions of the rights of other crafts were all too common when so many 'specialist' tradesmen all shared similar skills. The dispute was resolved, as in other cases, by specific prohibition in the ordinances of each mystery, forbidding members to employ workmen of the other crafts or to practise those crafts themselves. (fn. 24)
The responsibility for carrying out searches of workshops to ensure good workmanship was fraught with problems. As already indicated, where two or more trades formed one company, the expertise of the officers involved could be called into question if they were inspecting a craft other than their own. It was, moreover, an expensive exercise because the wardens of the mystery needed the legal support of a mayor's sergeant to carry it out and payment was required for his services.
In 1452 the pinners once more appeared before the mayor to protest strongly concerning the practices of his own officers. They pointed out that, in the past, where an official search was carried out by the mystery, it had been customary, when culprits were fined, for the Guildhall to retain half of the money and for the craft to take the rest. In a recent case however, in which a pinner, named John Bultell, had committed an offence normally punishable by a fine of 40 shillings, the chamberlain had let him go on payment of a fine of 6s. 8d. and had refused to give the craft's wardens anything 'for all her said labour and costes'. They stressed that they were asking for the right 'to take for their laboure as Wardeins of other Craftes of this Citee haven and they shall pray to God for you'. Their prayers prevailed and their petition was granted. (fn. 25)
Most pinners were comparatively poor men. It is perhaps surprising that more were not tempted into dishonesty than would seem to have been the case. In 1449, however, William Taylour allowed himself to become involved in a curious fraud. He was employed to deliver a forged document to a pewterer, John Kinsale. He had agreed 'to seal the deed as though it had been sealed by the said John Kinsale and to pass himself off as John Kinsale...'. The prime mover in the fraud was a William Halman, who later confessed his guilt and was sentenced to stand in the pillory. William Taylour, the pinner, also confessed his part in the deception 'and said that he had received in payment from the said William Halman a shoulder of mutton, a gallon of ale and 20 pence'. (fn. 26)
Two master pinners, at the other end of the scale, ran into problems over apprentices. The first arose over the death of the master himself, Laurence Proute. Young Geoffrey Prany, of Livermere in Suffolk, complained in the mayor's court in 1444, that he had been apprenticed for ten years to Laurence Proute, pinner, whose widow and executrix Agnes had remarried to Thomas Holgill gentleman 'and that the said Agnes kept no shop and had not instructed or provided for him wherefore he prayed to be exonerated from his apprenticeship': which he duly was. (fn. 27) The other case revealed how vulnerable an apprentice could be if placed with a harsh master. Thomas Duffield, son of a London cordwainer, had been apprenticed to a pinner, Thomas Boges, for eight years. In 1447, he was excused from the rest of his apprenticeship on the ground that his master had not instructed him in his trade, and had 'chastised him horribly'. (fn. 28)
A notable feature of the later audit book is the expenditure by the Pinners on the upkeep of the then newly-acquired hall. It appears that, as early as 1443, the Pinners were renting a property from the Merchant Taylors' Company. An entry in the court minutes of the Merchant Taylors' Company in 1443–4 recorded money spent on repairs to the 'pynners hous', at that time located in Friday Street. Since the craft was no longer renting this property in 1462, it must have been relinquished at some time before then, perhaps reflecting the toll taken on the industry by the increase of foreign imports following the end of the Hundred Years' War in 1453. (fn. 29)
THE PINNERS' CRAFT IN LONDON 1462–98
The end of the war with France had brought decline in some trades, notably the wool industry, and taxation was high. But the impact on towns was variable. Some towns declined sharply at this period but others, such as Westminster, prospered. (fn. 30) This was not always a result of the war but reflected industrial and market changes, in particular, the switch from the wholesale export of wool to the manufacture of woollen cloth. For the pinners, the increase of foreign imports represented a serious threat. Unfortunately for them, their interests ran counter to those of the wholesale merchants', many of whom imported and distributed these manufactured goods, and also to those of the king, who welcomed the customs duties paid on such imported goods.
In 1462 the Cutlers Company headed a deputation to the new king, Edward IV, on behalf of a number of small traders, including the pinners, seeking a ban on the foreign imports which, they claimed, menaced their livelihoods. For the time being their prayer was granted in a statute, the socalled 'Charter' of 1463. Reassured by this, the Pinners proceeded to put their affairs in order and to conduct their business in the manner of a city company, a status to which they, like many other humble associations, aspired. (fn. 31)
As a first step, they ordered a scribe to have made a copy of the prized 'Charter', referred to as 'our Exemplification' (i.e. of the 1463 Parliamentary Statute), as a safeguard against any future encroachments upon it by forgetful authorities (2). In the absence of a hall of their own, they deposited the document in the Girdlers' Hall for safekeeping. The next step was to buy parchment and a calendar which were bound together as a book in which the craft would inscribe its ordinances, a copy of the 'Charter' and enter the wardens' biennial statements of account. This record was kept, with varying efficiency, for nearly fifty years and it is this manuscript which is edited here.
Its pages reveal, not only the erratic course of a very humble craft, but also, in some instances, the uncertain fortunes of individual members. It also revealed that, like many other crafts, the brotherhood of pinners was both a religious and craft association. In the first two years of this record (1462–4), the craft spent nearly 12% of its funds in its capacity as the Fraternity of St James. Its membership was open to all workmen, as well as the masters and their wives. It was this organisation which ensured the social cohesion and support of the craft. Through it, trental masses were said for the souls of members on their deaths and, annually, for the welfare of all past and present members of the craft. These masses were celebrated at the Whitefriars at a cost of 2s 6d on each occasion. The brethren also mounted candles there on the feast of St James, 25 July, as well as at the nearby Augustinian hospital of Elsyng Spital and at the hospital of St James at Westminster. Large amounts of money were paid to the waxchandler each year for the supply of costly candles and the sexton at Elsyng Spital received a regular payment for scouring the sconce there. As members came and went, a scribe or painter was paid to keep the membership 'tables' up to date. These were kept at Elsyng Spital. Overall, this was quite a widely spread outlay of charitable donations for a not very prosperous craft. (fn. 32)
By their own standards however, and despite their valid complaints against foreign competition, the pinners were comparatively thriving at this time. Though never large, there were probably about sixteen master craftsmen in 1462. The umper and his two wardens opened the book with immediate receipts of £5 5s. 6d. and, after paying out £10 5s. 4d. during their two years of office, they handed on £18 0s. 6d. to their successors in 1464. (fn. 33) And this was despite a number of extraordinary expenses, totalling £2 6s. 8d., the sum which the Pinners paid towards the Cutlers' petition. Such a balance compares favourably with many entries in the accounts of their contemporaries, the Carpenters, which was a well established craft with many more members. (fn. 34)
As might be expected, 88% of their total outgoings were disbursed on running the craft itself. Some of this money was spent on their civic duties. For however humble their craft, the masters were, by definition, freemen of the city of London, a privileged status, which required their presence annually, when first the sheriffs, and then the mayor, after their election, travelled to Westminster to present themselves to the king. City custom demanded that the wardens of each company took part in this ceremony in liveries provided at their own expense. Evidently a convivial occasion, it is interesting to find in the first account, but never again, a payment of 16d., laid out on a breakfast for those not of the livery who had been excluded from the mayor's dinner. Providing liveries for participants at official events was another charge on the Pinners' resources. In 1465, the brethren paid 15s. for woollen cloth 'ayenst the quenes coronation' (8); and in the 1468–70 account 3½d. was paid 'for drinking at St. Katherine's when the king came up by water', and 15s. for five yards of cloth when King Edward returned from the north of England (13).
The payments made by the craft for carrying out obligatory searches make clear the burden this laid upon small trades. Among the payments, it is interesting to find references to searches carried out beyond the city's jurisdiction: at the fair of Stourbridge, for example, on behalf of the wiredrawers, and again in the same period (1462–4) at Salisbury (4).
Nor were these the only financial calls on the craft. Once an apprentice had completed his term of service, he could, on payment of 3s. 4d., be registered as a brother of the fraternity and was qualified to work as a skilled journeyman. He was also entitled to become a freeman of the City, if and when he could raise the entry fee. Before taking this step, it was usual to spend a few years as a journeyman. This group of young men was sometimes referred to as the 'bachelors', a practice which explains the entry, against a donation, 'from the young men of the craft' (3). (fn. 35) Understandably, the freedom of the city was much coveted and many journeymen undoubtedly never attained it. Without it however no man, whatever his skill, could set up his own shop, employ journeymen or take on apprentices. A number of entries in the accounts indicate that, like other crafts, the pinners had a type of loan scheme to enable men to take up the freedom. The money was paid back in instalments of 8d. a week, paid each Saturday. Each loan was covered by a bond, for which legal fees were incurred (7).
Other payments were directed to maintaining the dignity of the fraternity. By 1462, the craft had a beadle, that indispensable factotum of any selfrespecting mystery. Richard Quycke's wages were 6s. 8d. p.a. and a distinctive 'half hood' was provided for him, at a cost of 5s. (4) On his death, as a brother of the fraternity, the craft paid for a mass to be sung for his soul (51).
The number of master-craftsmen at any one time must always have been small. The overall numbers of the fraternity - as distinct from the craft - are difficult to gauge. Women, including all the wives, could and did join the fraternity but were not accepted as members of the craft itself. The purchase of five dozen trenchers in 1462 sounds ambitious (4). Scrutiny of the accounts however, shows that, in the twenty years between 1462 and 1482, there were thirty admissions to the fraternity: sixteen men, a single woman and thirteen wives. If the names of at least seven wardens and their wives are added, and the husbands of the newly-admitted wives, the total membership comes to just over thirty and there were undoubtedly a number of others, particularly journeymen, who do not appear in the records. In this way, it can be seen that a total of sixty people might well have attended the annual feast of St James. Only men could attend business meetings, at which their presence was compulsory, with a fine for unexplained absence. There is evidence of some unrest among older members at this time, perhaps reflecting a recent tightening up of regulations. In the first account, several members are fined for non-attendance at the audit and for a number of offences against the ordinances such as employing children who were not apprenticed as well as poaching other members' workmen (6).
The earlier fourteenth-century ordinances had specified that women could only practise the trade if they were the wives or daughters of a member of the craft. In later days, however, the names of a few unidentifiable women do appear in the lists, paying the fees to become full members of the craft. Some of these would almost certainly be 'forins' who had learnt their skills outside the city and now presented themselves as competent artificers. There is no record of a girl being apprenticed as a pinner, but presumably those who did work in the trade had learnt their skills in their fathers' and husbands' workshops. Exceptionally, a Margaret Hall paid 10s. in 1477–81 for admission as a freewoman and at the same time one Isabell Goor paid 10d. quarterage (22). On marriage, all the brethren appear to have paid the entrance fee of 20d. to make their wives sisters of St James. This entitled them to attend the fraternity's social gatherings and paid for a trental mass, at the Whitefriars, in the event of their deaths.
One or two widows may have paid the full membership fee of 3s. 4d. on the deaths of their husbands, which suggests their intention of keeping up the workshop, and training the apprentices, on their own account. There is insufficient evidence to prove this either way, though the legal case brought by an apprentice in 1444, against a widow, Agnes Proute, for failing to provide instruction for him, might imply that this was accepted practice. With the influx of 'forin' workers 'in Robert Ettell's time,' in about 1498, four workwomen were admitted: Margaret Exnyng, Margaret Golde, Margaret Crayford and Katherine Smyth (56).
Their surviving wills reveal some of the areas in which pinners lived in London. The parishes of twenty-six pinners ranging in date from 1395 to 1558 are known. (fn. 36) All but three of these pinners lived in a tight cluster of parishes in the north-west corner of the city and stretching out into the western suburbs. Six of the pinners lived in the parish of St Bride in Fleet Street. (fn. 37) One of the pinners who lived in Fleet Street, Richard Hughis, shortly before his death in 1468, had been summoned to appear before the Court of Common Pleas for arrears of rent on his workshop. The court record provides the only known description of a pinner's working premises. It lay in the parish of St Bride and consisted of a shop made 'sidewise' by the street situated next to Fleet Bridge, above the water there. (fn. 38)
With a satisfactory membership and an unspecified number of apprentices, 1462 was the high-water mark of the craft. There was money to pay for a beadle and his hood, civic journeys to Westminster, and for new liveries for the wardens who accompanied royal ridings, alongside other crafts and companies. At this point, the umpers and wardens might well have dreamed of becoming a fully-fledged city company, with a hall of their own and all the dignities which went with such a position.
In 1462, the Pinners had no premises of their own, whatever premises they may have been able to rent from the Taylors earlier in the century. When the new book opened, they were holding their biennial audit and elections in the Girdlers' Hall, which they hired for 2s. a time. They provided their own table linen on these occasions, which periodically cost 12d. for laundering, and doubtless made use of the five dozen wooden trenchers, which they had bought in 1462, at a cost of 15d. In the absence of a permanent base, storage was an obvious problem. In the first year, the brethren laid out 2s. for 'a little new cheste for our Crafte'. The treasured 'exemplification' of the 1462 ordinance had to be deposited in the Cutlers' Hall for safe-keeping (4). (fn. 39)
They were not alone in such aspirations. The fifteenth century witnessed the acquisition, extension and building of many such halls. The Carpenters, for example, began work on theirs in 1438 and were still working on it twenty years later. Less pretentious crafts, such as the Bowyers, were also providing themselves with such premises in the 1460s. By 1470, moreover, the Pinners had moved out of the Girdlers' Hall. The account for 1470 had to be presented in the brewhouse at the sign of the Rose, in the Old Jewry (13). Though doubtless convivial, this venue was hardly consonant with the pride of the fraternity. In 1472, they assembled in the Armourers' Hall, for which they paid a rent of 3s. 4d. that year and subsequently 10s. for three further years (15, 17). (fn. 40) By 1481 they had made the decision to lease a hall in Adel Street, off Wood Street in Cripplegate ward, from Thomas Payne, a carpenter who rented it from the Taylors' Company, for 20s. p.a. (22, 26). The umper and wardens rendered their first account in the new building in November 1481, doubtless with much rejoicing (24). (fn. 41)
Unfortunately, their pleasure was to be short-lived. In no time they were paying heavily for their high aspirations. The indentures for renting the hall cost 2s. 4d., but this was only the beginning. Whether the building was dilapidated, or whether the Pinners sought to improve and extend it, is not known. What is certain is that, no sooner had they moved in, than they had to call the builders in at much expense (23, 26, 29, 32). Their hall was evidently a timber and daub construction. There are entries in the accounts of the payment of 15s. 'to the Carpynter for his wages' and 25s. 'to the Dawber and his man', not to mention the purchase, for £2 12s. 10d., of laths, boards, loam, sand, gravel, bricks, lime, masonry, nails and iron work. That done, there was 3s. 4d. to pay for carting away the rubbish, 31s. 1d. 'for steynyng of the hallyng', 18d. for red lead and 7½d. for 'moty' (a kind of pigment). Furnishing and finishing involved 7d. for coal, 4s. for a table and two trestles, 16d. for four forms, 2s. 2d. for 'mattes in the hall and parlour' and 7d. for a lock. Under the circumstances, it is remarkable that the wardens had a balance of £7 2s. 6d. at the next audit (24).
Nor was this the end of the story. More work on the building had to be done in the next two years and in most years thereafter. The overall balance had dropped to £5 12s. 5d. in 1483. By 1487, however, it had returned to £6 1s. 9½d. On the back of this last account is an undated inventory of the contents of the hall, written in an unpractised hand, perhaps that of one of the pinners. It is a meagre record of linen, dishes and platters, banners and a pall. Since there is no mention of furniture, not even the trestle tables and stools, this list may have been made for a specific purpose and therefore incomplete (31).
There were further repairs to the hall in 1490, but the craft may well have hoped that its outlay was about to pay off, when the wardens of the Daubers paid the Pinners 16d. for the use of their hall for a supper (34). But both finances and accounts showed a sharp decline from then on and the balance handed to the new wardens in 1491 was reduced to £3 9s. 10d. Worse was to come, with yet another visitation of epidemic disease in the early 1490s. There remained a number of unpaid debts to the craft and in 1496 the account showed that £2 4s. 10d. was still owed by members, probably quite legitimately under bonds, though there is no record of these (39). The fact remained, the new wardens started their term with assets of £1 6s. 4d. Similar small balances had featured in the accounts of the more prosperous Carpenters, particularly when building operations were in full spate. The Carpenters had even been driven to pawning some of their plate and 'kishions' to the goldsmiths in 1458. The difference between the two crafts, however, was that, by 1442 the Carpenters had acquired 'tenametys' which yielded rent. This additional income was a permanent reinforcement, however bad the cash balance looked. (fn. 42) It was a resource unlikely ever to come the way of the pinners when their wealthiest members tended to migrate to major companies.
The costs of the hall were probably not the only cause of the disastrous slump in their fortunes. The circumstances surrounding the death of Thomas Tarte, some time between 1475 and 1477, may throw further light on the situation. Admitted to the brotherhood in 1462, with his wife, he may have been a foreign workman, trained outside the city, who, after due consideration, had been accepted into the craft. He rose rapidly and became a warden in 1466, and again in 1475. He died in office owing the craft £4 under a bond, the money with which he had been vested when elected a warden. Unusually, the craft distrained his property to recover the money. It returned gradually. Katherine Hill, perhaps a married daughter, held 18s. 5d. worth of his goods in 1477 and subsequently paid over £1 5s. 11d. Later still, she paid in 15s. 3d. 'for Tartes goods' which at least redeemed a little over half of the missing capital, but it also cost the craft 8d. for carting the goods away and another 3s. 4d. 'for the man that laboured for Tartes goods'; not to mention fees paid at the Guildhall (19, 21, 23).
The case is of interest since it was the one occasion on which the wardens were prepared to take such drastic action. When Edmund Legge, another former warden, died, c. 1472–5, during his term of office, he also owed £4 under a legal obligation, of which only £1 10s. was paid back, some time after 1479 (21, 22). The facts relating to this man are somewhat mysterious. Evidently one of the leading men of the craft, he served as warden twice: in 1466–8 and 1472–5. He also acted, as did a number of other pinners, as the recipient of gifts of goods and chattels enrolled among the records of the mayor's court. In September 1469, he was one of four recipients for William Smyth, a hatter, and two months later, he was one of three men who accepted the same role for John Lamberd, a girdler. (fn. 43) Legge was therefore familiar with this legal agreement and it is not surprising to find that he had himself engaged in financial transactions of this kind (often used as a means of obtaining short-term credit) with another pinner, John Ronell (91). (fn. 44)
On the other hand, when John Plays died while serving as umper between 1481–3, his widow immediately paid back the £3 5s. 10d. he then owed (24, 25). Most of the loans to members were probably repaid. As already shown, men who had borrowed to become freemen met their debts in weekly instalments, usually of 8d. at a time. It is possible nonetheless that the craft may have overreached itself in making such advances given that it did not possess any property to provide financial security.
Another element in the situation was reflected in the new petition of many small crafts, including the Pinners, to Richard III on his accession in 1483. This plea echoed that of 1462, in its request for an embargo on foreign imports and seemingly with as little long-term effect. (fn. 45) It was a forlorn hope since, as before, they were up against the conflict of interest between local craftsmen and wholesale merchant importers.
The umper and wardens of 1495 were forced to recognise that the fraternity as it stood was no longer viable. It was a common enough situation among small crafts. In 1479, the wiredrawers had been forced to take the step of amalgamating with the chapemakers, to become the craft of wiremongers, a fairly frequent expedient among small crafts, faced with foreign competition and rising unemployment at home. Unwin suggested that the Pinners' undoing was their 'fatal decision' to have a hall. Certainly it cost them a great deal but their accounts indicate that their finances were declining even before that. From their standpoint, the hall might have represented a good investment, to be rented out and thus to yield income. There were other forces at work, outside the craft itself, which worked against the pinners, alongside many other small trades. Alien competition, against which they had inveighed in 1462, continued to increase. The records of the London petty custom reveal that, in the single year of 1481, huge cargoes of pins were coming into the ports from overseas. (fn. 46) Hence the petition to Richard III in which protection against foreign imports was again sought.
The records of many crafts in the 1490s show a remarkable increase in the numbers of 'forin' workmen joining the trade and the men of the mysteries were petitioning the mayor and aldermen for the tightening up of regulations governing the admission of such workmen. What none of them clearly could understand was the cheapness of the goods from abroad, and in some cases, their high quality, particularly those from the Low Countries. (fn. 47) They appear to have been unaware of, or refused to acknowledge, the technical developments in Europe which made these improvements possible, although Osmund steel from Sweden, the basis for hard steel wire, the pinners' basic material, was being imported into England in the fifteenth century. (fn. 48)
Overall, the craft was probably a victim of its own over-regulated practices. Manufacturing processes prescribed by the craft itself and enforced by the wardens inhibited new methods of working and stifled technical innovation at source. The series of infectious epidemics at this period may also have contributed to the pinners' difficulties. John Plays, while serving as umper 1481–3, could well have died of such illness.
In 1495, the new wardens, William Parker, Robert Ettell and Robert Chenwyth took office with a total of only £1 6s 4d. in the box. They now had the sad task of winding up the Pinners' affairs and negotiating the amalgamation of their craft with the Wiremongers, their suppliers. Even this process proved expensive. Nearly £1 10s. of the outgoings for 1498 went on 'the cost of the plea betwyxte the pynners and the wyremongers' (41). Most of the money went on the drafting of pleas and legal documents, not to mention the expenses incurred in entertaining the mayor and various legal worthies. The Pinners paid 20d. for the enrolment of the ordinances of the craft, in its new name of Wiresellers, in the city's Letter Book L (41). (fn. 49) Not surprisingly, only 7s. 6½d. was left in the common box at the end of 1497. The number of pinners on roll at the time appears to have been fourteen in all.
It must have been a sad and worrying time. There is no reason to suppose negligence on the part of John Wekys himself, a warden during the final years 1491–1495, but the successive deaths of umpers and wardens over the years led to some loss of capital to the craft. It remains a mystery why John Wekys never held office again after 1495 although he did not die until 1518 (96). Perhaps the former pinners did hold him responsible to some extent for the collapse of the craft. It is also possible that he may have been so disheartened that he asked to be excused further service. Given the costs of the whole transaction, it is also possible that he was himself financially embarrassed by the need to subsidise the craft at this period, but he was certainly still in business at the time of his death.
THE WIRESELLERS 1498–1511
However common the amalgamation of crafts might be, for the participants such amalgamations inevitably brought fundamental changes. The Wiremongers had been through the process fairly recently in 1479, when they combined with the Chapemakers, another union forced on both parties by economic necessity. (fn. 50) On that occasion, however, there was no problem about their patron saint and fraternity. Their new ordinances of 1481 had reaffirmed their continued adherence to the feast day of St Clement the Pope (23 November): 'that it be kept and halowed as it is kept and halowed among other craftes of the same citee that in their werk occupie fire and water in eschewyng the hurtes that myght come thereby...' (fn. 51). In espousing St James, the Pinners appear to have deviated from the usual affiliation of the many other metal workers in the city. It is possible that the craft may originally have met together in the hospital dedicated to St James at Westminster. They had now to agree to accept St Clement, along with their new identity as Wiresellers, although the Pinners seem to have kept some tokens of their old allegiance. In the account for 1497–99 the payment of 10s. is recorded 'for a banner of the Assumption of Our Lady and St Clement with anchors and scallop shells'. Presumably, the scallop shells were a residual reference to their association with St James. In the same account 15s. was also spent on an image of St Clement, and a further 1d. for wax and resin for the image (47). A special subscription for the banner and the image raised 5s. 10d. towards the cost (53).
Since the Wiredrawers do not appear to have had a hall, the Pinners' Hall in Adel Street was retained, though it still occasioned insatiable demands for repairs, and, on at least one occasion, in 1504, they had to move out into 'our hall in the Greyfriars', at a rent of 20d. for the year (45, 58).
The real drain on the new craft's resources, however, was a law suit between the brethren and a man called Thomas Hill, conducted in the Commissary Court between 1497 to 1499. To meet the costs initially, thirty-one members subscribed £1 5s. 11d. between them in varying amounts. This is the first complete list of the craft: fourteen of the men so named are identifiable as former pinners (43). The case against Thomas Hill continued its laborious course. Expenses amounted to 19s. 6d. in the first year and further large sums were paid out in 1499, for which there were more levies. Finally, the Court ordained that each of the parties should pay in 40s., a sum raised by yet another subscription (44, 51).
From the beginning, money had to be raised by extraordinary measures. As already indicated, with the common box virtually empty and legal expenses mounting, the Wiresellers resorted to 'ales'. Entry fees were clearly graded to the members' means. Even the food and candles for the annual Saint's day feast had to be funded in this way (52).
The form of these later accounts, if such they can be called, varied at this time, evidently depending on the priorities of the moment; even their dating is sometimes haphazard. Indeed they might more often be described as memoranda, rather than accounts. The period 1499–1504 is characterised by a number of different listings. One of the most interesting, dated 1497–99 lists the names of twenty-four 'foreigners' who paid fines to be allowed to work in the city (56). One of these was, John Myryell, who paid 6s. 8d. for his freedom. Of the remaining twenty-three people, four women each paid 20d. to be admitted as workwomen and eighteen men paid the same sum to become workmen. One man, however, was charged 2s. as part payment of his fine to be admitted as a workman.
However insecure their finances, the craft continued to hire two barges each year to accompany first the sheriffs and then the mayor to Westminster, taking their place as a recognised craft of the city. In 1504, they spent 5s. 1d. on the erection of a scaffold for the entry of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, for which a small group of senior men provided the money (58, 59). Routine payments continued until 1511, when Robert Cadman, John Wright and John Strode presented their account, the last one recorded. They delivered into the common box, on this occasion, 34s., and they noted that there was 'remaining to the craft' and the company in quarterage 30s. (64).
There are no further entries. The Wiresellers appear to have been absorbed into the Girdlers, although it is not clear when this happened. (fn. 52) Certainly, much later, in the reign of Elizabeth, the Pinners were to break away from the Girdlers to become an independent craft once more. But in 1511, their book of records was closed. It remains, however muddled and confused in places, a valuable insight into the realities of life for an artisan craft, struggling for survival, like many others of their kind, against economic forces and rivalries which they were not in a position to withstand. Clinging to the craft processes and traditions of an earlier period, the Pinners were doubtless bewildered to find that their skills, in no way eroded, were no longer valued as they had been, and they were forced to accept the unwelcome influx of imported goods.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK AND ITS ARRANGEMENT
The first audit reported the costs of making the new book in detail: 2s. 5d. for thirteen skins of parchment, 10d. for a rubricated calendar and 12d. for binding, and for clasps that have now gone (4). When the volume was bound at some later date the pages were cropped to fit the new covers. The volume was rebound in 1976. As it now stands, the seventy-one pages measure 7 inches by 9½ inches. The small, six-folio rubricated calendar of saints' days was added to the front of the volume when it was first compiled in the fifteenth century. The pages were re-numbered in ink at a later date and more consistent numbering in pencil has been added in modern times.
It is rarely possible to pinpoint the exact dates of events referred to in the book, although the sequence of accounts is unbroken. Royal events can sometimes be identified and the deaths of individual pinners can be reasonably assigned if they left wills, particularly in the case of probated wills. The preparation of these accounts clearly depended on some other accounting records, such as bills, which are sometimes referred to in the text, but none has survived. (fn. 53) Like other crafts, the Pinners were by their ordinances required to report the names of their new officers at Guildhall, but, to judge from the evidence of the City's Letter Books, they did so only sporadically, or at least the names of the new officers were only sporadically recorded. A list of the names of the umpers and wardens recorded, both in the Letter Books and in the accounts, is given in Appendix 2. The Pinners appear to have confined themselves to three officers at a time: an umper and two wardens, and the records show that this custom was substantially unchanged during this period.
The aim throughout has been to produce a modern English version of the manuscript. Some attempt has been made to render proper names consistently. Variant names will be found in the index.
For easy reference the text has been broken into numbered paragraphs where natural breaks in the text emerge and there are several in each biennial account. On occasion modern punctuation has been added to clarify the sense of an entry. Where words have obviously been omitted, these have been inserted, in square brackets, as have modern variants of archaic words. Latin words are given as cited but, where possible, with standard contractions expanded. Illegible or missing words are indicated with omission marks.
Most of the wills calendared at the end of the main text, were written in Latin. These wills have been rephrased in modern English and set out in paragraphs in order to be more easily understood. For the sake of convenience, each will has been transcribed with paragraph numbers, but these are not in the originals. Similarly, in the interest of reducing formulaic repetition, some of the original preamble has been omitted: the opening phrase of the last will and testament, namely 'In the name of God, Amen', and the full details of regnal years and titles. Although some of the wills are earlier in date than the Pinners' Book, they have been included to provide as complete a documentation of the London pinners as possible. The later wills of the London wiresellers, who incoporated the pinners, have also been included for the same reason.
The pinners' wills were proved in three courts: the London court of Husting, and in the two ecclesiastical courts of the Archdeacon and the Commissary. The wills are printed here in chronological sequence, regardless of the place of probate.