Memorial XXIII: Annual Festivals

Pages 123-125

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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1. Whatever may be the advantages of association in the present day, few will question the truth of the assertion that our Civic ancestors considered it in their day to be a very essential element to sustain their corporate life and strengthen their political existence. To hold a lawful assembly and to govern therein the craft or trade in which they were interested needed Royal authority, for in the earlier days of Civic Guilds every assembly unauthorized was looked upon as unlawful, because in the political experience of our Norman rulers the object of assembling was to regain the advantages of Saxon Freedom. The concession obtained by the First Charter, in 1326, was, therefore, the very life-blood of freedom—viz., the liberty of free assembly for the purposes of self government. (fn. 1)

2. Such meetings would, however, soon have degenerated into political discontent, or something worse, had not the social element been grafted upon them; consequently, by the Second Charter (in 1390), liberty was given to the Guild "to hold and keep in an honest manner their feast of meat and drink," and thenceforth the spirit of hospitality became interwoven with the development of Civic Guilds. (fn. 2)

3. Another element, by far the most important one—the salt of their existence—was the devout spirit in which these Companies were founded. At that period every festival of the Guild was in harmony with a higher rule (fn. 3) and the day appointed by the Charter for the annual gathering, of the Company was the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Then at least, if not now,
"Men's words and works, their hopes and fears, Henceforth forbid to rove, Paused, when a Martyr claimed her tears, Or Saint inspired her love." and in this, as in the instances of other guilds founded in the same era, a Patron Saint was adopted as a type or emblem in memory of whom the affairs of the Company were to be conducted.

4. The religious meetings of the Fraternity were, no doubt, more frequent in earlier times than they now are; indeed, the chapels at "Powles" and at the Hall, with the occasional ministrations of the Bishop of the Diocese there, and the attendance of the Fraternity at St. John's of Jerusalem on the Decollation Day, are abundant proofs of this fact. (fn. 4) The summons to the burial of a deceased brother, which was probably then frequent, has long ceased to be issued; and the only trace of that custom is preserved in two anniversary sermons, which are preached,—one, since 1514, on Good Friday, under James Wilford's Will [Mem. XLIX.]: the other, since 1615, on the 23rd December, the day of John Vernon's funeral [Mem. LXXIX.]

5. It was usual (as before stated) that the chartered assemblies of these Guilds were to be held on some previously appointed Church festivals; and this fact appears to have been within the judicial cognizance of Sir Robert Billesden in 1484–5, when, by his award, he ordered the Skinners to invite the Taylors to their annual feast on "the Vigil of Corpus Christi," and the Taylors to invite the Skinners to their annual festival on "St. John Baptist's Day." The oldest settled appointment of the Company is thus explained and accounted for.

6. The entertainment second in antiquity, viz., to "Strangers," (fn. 5) has long ceased to be given to them. In a controversy with the Yeoman Taylors in 1609, this was objected to "as a great charge," and it was urged that there was "no reason that the stranger should be better entertained than the King's natural subjects"; therefore it was given up, (fn. 6) or at least the enjoyment transferred, to the Warden Substitutes and their Sixteen Men.

7. Of comparatively less importance were the quarterly dinners, when the whole Company subscribed and assembled for the entertainment. These meetings, which were also reckoned by Church festivals, (fn. 7) gradually fell into desuetude, first being celebrated only in every third, and then in every seventh year, (fn. 8) until, about 1623, they appear to have been wholly discontinued in regard to the yeomen.

8. When the national defence rested upon the citizens, and they were trained—first at Devonshire Square, and then at Moor Fields or Islington—in archery and shooting, the Company gave them the use of the Hall for, and bore part of the expense of, a "shooting" or "convivium" dinner, which in 1609 was described as being of "antient continuance," and as "the only dinner of recreation."

9. After the establishment of the school in 1561, other dinners in reference thereto—as that on "St. Barnabas Day" in the summer, and on "Doctors' Day" in the winter—were instituted, but with these exceptions no "Festivals" exist in the Company save those of ancient origin. (fn. 9)

10. Formerly these expenses were borne by individuals, now they are borne by corporate funds,—conditions essentially different, which must not be overlooked or forgotten by the existing or future members of the Guild.


  • 1. See p. 189.
  • 2. See p. 191.
  • 3. "When first earth's rulers welcomed home The Church, their zeal impressed Upon the seasons, as they come, The image of their guest."
  • 4. See Appendix A (6), and the gifts in Mems. LXIX. and LXXV.
  • 5. See Mem. x.
  • 6. See Appendix B (4).
  • 7. See entry of 29th May 1609.
  • 8. See entry of 12th June 1616.
  • 9. Probably, since the order of 17th May 1606, it has been a custom that the members attending a Court should (if they pleased) dine together; and so, when the Master and Wardens assemble for special duty (of which an illustration may be given in the search at St. Bartholomew) that they should dine.
  • 10. See entry of 20th June 1630.