Memorial II: The Yeoman or Batchelor's Company

Pages 22-29

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. Seeing that this organization was abolished in 1691, (fn. 1) no practical importance can attach to its former existence; but as a "memorial" of the past I have thought it well to collect together these few incidents, because the Yeoman or Batchelors were the channel or connecting link between the Fraternity as a Corporation, and Tailory as a craft or art.

2. An early trace of the Yeomen Tailors is to be found in a Decree or Ordinance of the Court of Aldermen, dated 1415, (fn. 2) extracted from the City Archives. The Company had an old hall at Dowgate which is noticed upon the Court records so recently as the year 1593. (fn. 3) These yeomen possibly lived in "3 Shears Court," described by Stowe in his Survey (fn. 4) as lying adjacent to the church of St. James', Garlick Hill, (fn. 5) and the complaint against them was that they "lived by themselves alone in companies," against the licence or will of the Master, and "without head or government."

3. This was an evil in those times too serious to be borne with, and hence two of these offenders were summoned to appear before the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, who adjudged "that the servants of the foresaid trade shall be hereafter under government and rule of the Master and Wardens of the aforesaid trade, as other servants of other trades in the said City are, and are bound by law to be, and that they shall not use henceforth livery or dress, meetings or conventicles, or other unlawful things of this kind."

4. In two years after this award,—viz., 5th August, A.D. 1417, they, "as a Brotherhood of Yeoman Tailors," approach the Lord Mayor for liberty to assemble "on the Feast of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist (fn. 6) next following and so henceforth yearly, in the church of St. John of Jerusalem, near Smythfield, there to offer for the deceased brothers and sisters of the said brotherhood, and to do other things which they have been accustomed to do there"; but the Court, obviously distrustful of them, thought fit to "order and consider that in future times no servant or apprentice of the said trade shall presume by themselves to make or enter assemblies or conventicles at the foresaid church of St. John or elsewhere, unless with and in presence of the Masters of the said trade, etc., on pain of imprisonment and fine."

5. I gather from the Records of the Fraternity, (fn. 7) that, at a very early period, Wardens and Assistants for this branch of the Fraternity were instituted. The separate (fn. 8) establishment consisted of four persons who acted as Wardens' Substitutes, sixteen other persons who acted as the Assistants, and they had a Clerk, (fn. 9) a Beadle, and a Treasury (fn. 10) distinct from those of the general Fraternity; in fact, an "imperium in imperio" was set up, producing discord as the consequence.

6. In an M.S. record, "the Occasion of the Constitution of the Wardens of the Yeomanry and their sixteen Assistants," is thus described:—"The Members of this Company growing very numerous and their affairs being also great by the many charities they had to manage and otherwise, the Court of Assistants began to consider of every means to make business more easy to them, and thereupon did substitute some of the inferior members who were Taylors by trade, and for method's sake constituted them the Wardens, called Warden Substitutes, and sixteen persons to aid and assist them in such matters as the Court of Assistants should direct and appoint, and that they should meet at the Hall at such times as the Master and Wardens should think fitt and when they should give them leave."

7. "The office to which they were appointed by the Court was to collect the quarterage, and also to make searches and see whether the Taylors were regular in their trade, and to take notice of what abuses happened, and then to give an account to the Court of Assistants from time to time what quarteridges they had collected and what irregularities or abuses were committed, so that the Court might take such care to rectify those abuses as the offence required."

8. In the year 1649 (the apprenticeship monopoly probably being found to press heavily upon a population whose industrial pursuits had been seriously interrupted by many years of civil commotion), the poor working taylors made urgent appeals to the Company to protect them from the free traders (termed foreigners) entering within their franchises and working under nominal apprenticeships or without any qualification, at lower wages, to their prejudice.

9. London was, at that time, divided into four quarters for trade purposes—a Warden Substitute being chosen for each quarter. Thus, "This day" (a Court entry of the 28th August states) "being appointed for the Election of ffour Wardens Substitutes of the Batchellors Company, for the yeare ensuing, there was presented by the old Wardens' Substitutes and sixteen men, eight names, upon wch bill indented the Company proceeding to the election by scrutiny, the choice by most voices fell upon—
"Thos. Wood, for Watling Street Quarter; Humphrey Wigan, for Fleete Street Quarter; Mark Buckland, for Candlewick Street Quarter; Thomas Fox, for Merchaunttailors' Hall Quarter."

After they had served in this office, they were not unfrequently called to the Livery on the payment of a reduced fine.

10. At the same Court a long petition of grievances was presented from the working taylors of the Company, alleging that strangers worked within the liberties; that foreigners were kept as household servants (though really working as tailors); that many apprentices were taken, whereby the poorer workmen were injured; that smaller Companies granted the Freedom of the City at lower fees; and that these freemen had no payment to make to the Merchant Taylors' Company.

11. Their prayer for relief was definite, and was debated by the Court of Assistants, in the presence of the Petitioners, on the 28th September, with these results. They desired—

1st. A general search beyond the powers of the Company's Charter;—which, after debate, was admitted would be illegal, and therefore was not insisted upon.

2nd. That all apprentices should be bound at the Common Hall, so that the Company might thus have a record of all those owning allegiance to the Master;—which the Court admitted to be expedient, and referred for further consideration.

3rd. That no apprentice should work for a Foreigner;—which was also admitted should be stopped, as being against the present Law.

4th. That all tailors should be compelled to pay quarterages;—but which the Court pointed out could only be levied from Freemen of the Company.

5th. That the sufficiency of all salesmen of tailory should be tested by the Company and their officers;—which the Court seemed to think could be done under the Charter.

6th. That the bonds taken for departing out of the franchise should be enforced;—for which the Court referred the Petitioners to the Warden Substitutes.

7th. That the informers employed by the Company should be called to account (as so little good appeared to result to the trade from their employment);—which the Court also thought to be necessary.

8th. That the Annual Feast might be kept according to the "guift";—which the Court "in these times did not think to be expedient." (fn. 11)

9th. That the good ordinances might be put in force;—which the Court agreed to.

And lastly, that no workmen be employed as tailors without first showing their Freedom to their employer;—which the Court agreed to.

12. The Petitioners did not quit the meeting without further complaints, the first of which had a somewhat ominous bearing upon what has ultimately come to pass. The working tailors thought they perceived a desire to exclude the tailory members of the Fraternity from all office or place of credit, and therefore they requested that two of these members might be yearly chosen as Warden Substitutes; further, they desired (2) that the orders which had been agreed to should be put in force, at the charge of the Fraternity; (3) that six additional Informers should be employed to act against Foreigners, under the direction of a Sub-Committee of ten tailors; and lastly, that no "cutting tailor" should be permitted to purchase his Freedom.

13. Upon these additional matters the Court were not prepared to give any decision until the subject had been referred for report to the Warden Substitutes and the sixteen men. Their report of the 14th November gave no encouragement to the appointment of a Sub-Committee (whose duty and authority would soon supersede or conflict with their own), but the Court of Assistants, possibly willing to please the poor brethren, at the risk of displeasing the Warden Substitutes and Sixteen Men, thought fit to grant the Sub-Committee. As to the appointment of the members, an angry controversy arose with the Petitioners, who desired to have their own nominees chosen, but the Court insisted upon making the selection.

14. In other respects the Petitioners were satisfied; for the six additional Informers were appointed to act under this composite body, whose meetings were to be held in the "Long Gallery," (fn. 12) on the first Wednesday in each month, at 8 a.m., to commence in January and continue until Midsummer.

15. The trade was overrun with foreign workmen, for the records (fn. 13) show that the Company was appealed to by the taylors who were freemen of other Companies, to put their powers in force for the protection of the franchised class. Prosecutions were undertaken, (fn. 14) and the Common Council appealed to to expel all foreign tailors from the houses of the citizens, "and from priviledged places within and without the City," but with little beneficial result, for when the working tailors applied for further relief, in August 1651, the Court revived the Committee with evident reluctance, as this entry proves:—

"Upon the consideration (fn. 15) a petition of divers the working Tailors of this Compie for the removing of divers grievancies concerning the Taylory of this Company, our Master declared unto the Petitioners, that in regard so little fruit hath arisen, notwithstanding the expence of about 100l., in prosecution of suites agt fforreyners tailors, and in charge of the Committee sitting, the Company hath very little or no encouragement to continue the said Committee longer, notwithstanding to give them all reasonable and just satisfaction, this Court doth order that the said Committee for the cutting Taylory be revived, and continue to sitt in the Long Gallery, untill Midsomer next."

A similar entry is traced on the 20th August 1653, (fn. 16) but the desire of the Company to prosecute soon died away.

16. Another official document, (fn. 17) prepared by the Clerk, describes the extinction of their offices by the Court in 1661, and their subsequent appeal in 1668, setting forth:—

"That their trade was ruined and that their families would be undone if the Court would not take some care of them, and praying that they might be re-admitted and promising that they would not put the Company to any charge, but would be diligent in finding out the abuses and irregularities of the trade in order to have them rectified."

17. The result of this appeal was their re-admission for year, and their subsequent dismissal with this arrangement:—

"That if they or any other person should at any time acquaint the Court with any irregularities in the trade, the Court would take care to redress them as much as they possibly could, they not having the power to domineer as before."

18. Their petition was then addressed to the Court of Aldermen, and "Upon full hearing, with Counsel on both sides, the Court dismissed the Petition and would give no relief."

To show that the Court of Assistants had power to discharge them by law it was argued—

"First. That they were creatures of the Court of Assistants' own making and no part of their constitution in any grant or charter.

"Secondly. That they neither had nor could pretend to have any legal power or authority to act in any sort whatsoever but what was delegated to them from the Court of Assistants, and it would be hard if the Court had not power to revoke the authority they have given, as this would be to make the substituted power above the power of the Substitutor.

"Thirdly. That they being substituted by the Court of Assistants in whom lies the government of the constitution to some particular purposes, they could never upon this account derive to themselves an inherent right and absolute power to act and perform whatever they thought fit, for by so doing they would be without controul, and let their actions tend never so much to the destruction of the Company, they were not to be contradicted and the Court of Assistants would only be responsible for their irregularities."

19. "These men being dismissed not only by the Court of Assistants but by the Court of Aldermen, (fn. 18) filed a Bill in the Court of Chancery, and then Petitioned the King in Council to be restored. The case was referred from the Council to the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General, and upon their report the Council made no Order but left them to the Law." (fn. 19)

20. The Yeomen—few being "Tailors"—still exist as Freemen, and as such receive the alms of the Company.


  • 1. See Mem. XL. (9).
  • 2. See this and the Ordinance of 1417, printed in Appendices A (4) and (5).
  • 3. "January 23rd, 1593.—This Court, intendinge the p'sente takinge in hand and proceedinge to finish the Buildinge at the Old Hall, formerlie tenanted by this Company, have appointed and chosen for the Surveyors of the same building, to visite the workemen there employed as theire leisure may p'mitte them, Richard Venables, Walter Plummer, and John Davenante, three of the Assistants of this Company." In the February following, it was let on lease to the Clerk, who was "to take in hard the recovery of the old way that cometh out of Thames Street, on the back part of the said tenement." I find, however, that this Hall came to the Company from Sir Thomas Roe, on 6th August 1565, and was the former residence of Sir Richard Charleton, Knight (attainted for High Treason).—Evid. Bk., p. 113.
  • 4. Book 3, p. 14 (1720).
  • 5. As to the "Gild of Garlekhille, London," in 1375, see Toulmin Smith's work, p. 3.
  • 6. See Mem. VII.; and Oath, p. 236.
  • 7. See Appendix B (1).
  • 8. Thus, an entry of 6th August 1580 records that "the Wardens of the Batchelors' Company asked license to keep their quarter-daye here on Tuesday come sevenight, which is the 16th August next, which was granted unto them, Mr. Warden Bréll and Mr. Warden Queraby are appointed to assist them."
  • 9. Roger Silverwell, on 23rd May 1610, who lived with his wife in one of the almshouses. When a widow, she received (June 1622) 5l. for giving up possession.
  • 10. See the Order of the Court, 20th December 1585, to enter and see what store of money they had therein; and again, on 10th February 1608, when 433l. in Cash and Plate was scheduled.
  • 11. The freemen ceased to be summoned to quarterly Courts after 1623. (See Mem. LXXV., p. 308, a gift for the Festival; and p. 49, Note 2.
  • 12. This is otherwise called the "Batchelors' Gallery." It was adjacent to the Hall, and to a house leased to Mr. Sotherton, who valued the privilege of walking in it, and had a doorway into it, by licence of the Court, from his house. (See Mem. III.)
  • 13. Entry, 5th December 1649, pp. 332–3.
  • 14. Page 337.
  • 15. Page 386.
  • 16. Page 422.
  • 17. A statement on behalf of the Company laid before the late Lord Campbell and Mr. Baron Gurney in 1831.
  • 18. See their Order of 14th January 1691 [Mem. XL. (9)].
  • 19. By the courtesy of the officers of the Council Office, I have searched and found this entry. The petition has been searched for in vain. "At a Court at Kensington, 28th January 1696.—Upon reading the Petition of the Wardens of the Yeomanry and 16 Assistants of the Batchelors' Company of the Merchant Tailors of the City of London, concerning their antient rights and privileges which are taken from them by the Merchant Taylors, and humbly praying that the rule and oversight of the Taylors' trade, and all their other antient rights and privileges may be re-settled on the petition, and their plate, goods and stock, restored as in the petition annexed is more at large expressed. It is this day ordered by His Majesty in Council, That it be, and it is hereby referred to Mr. Attorney and Mr. Solicitor-Generals, to examine the matter of the said petition, and to report to this Board how they find the same, together with their opinion thereupon."