Memorial VIII: The Common Box

Pages 52-58

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. Under this expression the corporate funds of the Fraternity were formerly designated. The earliest bequests made to the Company for "corporate" as distinct from "trust" purposes are found in the wills of Sir John and Dame Percival in 1507 and 1508. Both gave "to the Common Box of the Fraternity," the one "to the maintenance of their common charges and need," the other "for the maintenance and supportation of their common charges." Another expression to convey the same meaning is found in Donkin's Will (1570), where, though grafting a trust upon them, he directs his rents to be gathered "into the Company's stock"; and, again, in Vernon's will (1615), where the term "stock of the house" is used. The earliest benefactors to the Company were Sibsay (1404), Churchman (1406), and Langwith (1483), and the later ones, Moncaster (1517), Harris (1520), Slater (1521), Speight (1527), Sir S. Jennyns (1527), Acton (1530), and Buckland (1531).

2. The receipts and payments are shown elsewhere, (fn. 2) but the ordinary sources of income, as evidenced by the Company's Ordinances, were (a) the annual and quarterly payments of each member of the Fraternity (fn. 3); (b) The fines imposed on those who "mysorder themselves" either in the presence of the Master (fn. 4) or elsewhere; (c) The fees taken from citizens when apprenticed, or admitted to the Freedom or Livery, or to office in the Company; (d) The fines imposed on those refusing to serve, having been chosen or appointed to office. (fn. 5)

3. (a) The "annual" payments towards the Master's elec tion dinner have ceased for many years, that of 12d. from each Freeman (fn. 6) in 1623 (when they ceased to be summoned), and that of 3s. 4d. from the Assistants and Livery upwards of 220 years, the expenses of this dinner being (now partially as formerly) borne by the Master and two Renter Wardens. When made, the subsequent disbursement of these payments for this entertainment appears, as the Records show, (fn. 7) to have been more or less within the control of the Lord Mayor or Court of Assistants of the Company.

4. (b) The quarterage of 2s. 2d. was raised to 4s. by order of the Court in 1699, and in 1724 a Liveryman refusing to pay it was fined 40s. by the Court, and the Clerk ordered to recover the same by legal process. These payments, which were in the nature of poor rates, have ceased for upwards of 30 years.

5. (c) The fees taken on apprentices must be divided into Officers' and Company's.

The Clerk's fees were, in 1632, for binding, 1s. 10d., and for presentment, 2d.; in 1678, 2s. 8d. upon a merchant's and 1s. 8d. on any other apprentice; in 1623, the apprentice fees were raised to 1l., and in 1625 to 1l. 5s., with an extra fee on a premium paid. The Beadle and Porter also had fees.

6. The Company's fees were 2s. 6d. on apprenticing and 3s. 4d. on freedom; when they were increased by the Ordinances of 1661, in four grades, realizing, upon an average, 18s. 4d. and 12s. 6d. for each apprentice and freeman. The Court resolved in 1673 to return to the old fees; but in 1804, 1813, and 1825, other fees were fixed; the Court, be it observed, having always assumed the control and regulation of these payments.

7. (d) The payments by Liverymen must also be distinguished as Stewards' and Livery fines.

The first arose from the custom which threw the expense of the Lord Mayor's and several other dinners upon the Livery, (three or four in number being chosen), who had to act as stewards and to pay either the cost of these entertainments or a fine, fixed arbitrarily by the Court, until the year 1705, when 10l. was established as the steward's fine.

8. The second was fixed in 1591 at 16l. 13s. 4d., in 1598 at 20l., in 1601 (fn. 8) at 25l.; in 1607 at 35l. to those seeking the office, or at 30l. to those summoned; in 1663 at 25l.; in 1680 at 20l., with a fine of 30l. for those refusing to bear the expenses of Steward; and in 1705 at 15l., and 10l. for the Stewards' dinner.

9. On the 28th July 1726, the Court resolved that the Livery fine should for the future be 30l.; that the members paying such fine should not be called on to serve the office of Steward, that the Company should be at the charge of the Lord Mayor's day and school feasts, and that the office of Steward should cease. The fine was raised to 50l. in 1813, to 75l. in 1817, to 80l. 5s. in 1825, at which sum it now stands.

10. The "Livery" or the office of Assistant is now sought for as a benefit, not imposed as a burthen, hence fines for default of service are seldom incurred. The office of Master is still, by some at least, deemed onerous, and the fine (100l.) has been paid in recent years.

11. By provident care the resources of the Company accumulated, and so early as 1401 were invested in the purchase of real estate in the City. The pressure of the Crown by threatening forfeiture at the time of the Reformation obliged the Company to buy up all superstitious charges on their estates, but what in 1549–50 might have been deemed an evil has by the increased value of land to money become a great benefit.

12. The extraordinary sources of the income, ultra the Ordinances, were assessments made on the members of the Fraternity by order of the Court of Assistants, or the precept or command of the Lord Mayor as for a supply of corn. The constitution of these guilds provided a convenient machinery for taxation, (fn. 9) and the Common Council assumed the right of ordering the Master and Wardens to raise men, (fn. 10) supplies (fn. 11) or money (fn. 12) for municipal, no less than the Privy Council and Parliament for imperial purposes.

13. As another source of extraordinary income, the liberality of deceased members may be reckoned. With power to hold in Mortmain, the Company was at an early period in its history made the trustee of land for many benevolent objects. These benefactors usually provided for the remuneration of the Company's officers, and, having given fixed pecuniary charges to charitable purposes, often left the residue for the common profit of the Fraternity. With few exceptions these estates remain as they were left; the rents being apportioned with the sanction of the Charity Commissioners (appointed under the 16 and 17 Vict., c. 137) to the specific charitable purposes for which they were originally devised. The enhanced value of land given to the Company, as against money given to the Charities, has not unfrequently raised the corporate as contrasted with the trust income of the Fraternity; an inequality often reduced by the ruling body.

To turn to the other side of the account; the charges created against the ordinary revenue were these:—

14. The primary charge—as of charity—appears to have been the maintenance of Almsmen during life and their interment after death. They were "to be buried honestly at the costs and charges of the said Fraternity; and the Master and Wardens, and diverse of the clothing in their whole livery, to be present."

15. A specific rate (in effect a poor-rate before the Statute of Elizabeth), "for the poor of the said Fraternity," was levied quarterly, under a penalty of double the amount, and "without any remission or pardon," hence the cost of maintaining the poor was a second charge on the common box.

16. After the establishment of the School, in 1561, its maintenance has been a charge on revenue, for by the 44th Rule of the Foundation, the Company resolved to dedicate "40l. yearly, to be paid out of the Common Box," to the Masters. At that time this donation formed no inconsiderable part of the Company's yearly surplus, for in 1566 (there being no earlier account extant), the expenses of the School are shown as 56l. 13s. 4d., leaving only a residue of 46l. 6s. 8d. for the general purposes of the Fraternity. (fn. 13)

17. The extraordinary charges were probably connected with 16th Ordinance, which was directed against "those persons who denied to be partners or contributors, and to bear their parts of certain charges concerning the worship, benefit or credit of the Fraternity." A power of taxation was exercised by the Master, Wardens, and Court of Assistants, for specific purposes which were deemed to be common to the Fraternity, and to fall upon them as members of a Corporation subordinate to the supreme Common Council of the City. These sums were applied or paid for the special objects for which they were raised. (fn. 14)

18. The landed estates of the Company were usually subject, by the wills of the donors, to extraordinary payments, and it was the custom of the two Renter Wardens to divide the labour and responsibility of collection and of disbursement by taking one of two districts (into which they separated London), receiving the rents of that district, paying thereout the disbursements, and handing over the balance after due audit to the succeeding Master who, when the wealth of the Company out-filled the "Box," placed it in what was soon termed "the Treasury."

19. In days when "Banks" were unknown, the money was held in specie, and with the plate, kept in this Treasury, under several keys, one being given into the custody of the Master and of each of the Renter Wardens, and of a trusted member of the Fraternity. The orders of the Court justified expenditure, but the Treasury was only opened in the presence of the Master and Wardens, the Master being the person into whose hands the money was given for ultimate disbursement. (fn. 15)

20. At the "dreadful fire" of London (" which burnt down about 1,400l. per annum of ground rents," (fn. 16) ) "the Treasury by the Hall" was consumed, and all the plate melted, whereupon a Committee was appointed, on the 20th September 1666, to "view the same," and treat "with Mr. Taylor at the Tower about the refining of the same, and to dispose of the said plate to the best advantage and benefit of the Company." What the plate realized is shown in the foot note. (fn. 17)

21. When the use of the Treasury was abandoned and the money first placed in a Banking Account has not been traced. The Company opened an account with the Bank of England by order of the Court, of 15th October 1730, in these words: "That for the future the cash of the Company be kept for the respective Master and Wardens for the time being in the Bank of England, or in such other place as the said Master and Wardens will be answerable for;" the occasion of the order being that, at the same Court, the Master (Dawson) had previously memorialized and been relieved from 396l. 17s. 6d. of corporate money, deposited by him with Mr. John Jenkins, a Banker, then insolvent.


  • 1. The Poor Box (placed on the table for freemen's and liverymen's gifts) was established on the 18th August 1647, thus— "It is ordered that there shall be a Poores box bought and provided agt every Court of Assistants, To the'nd that such as take leases may give something to the poore, as other Companies and Corporations in like cases use."
  • 2. See Appendix A (6), pp. 517–30.
  • 3. Under the 13th Ordinance.
  • 4. Under the 10th Ordinance.
  • 5. The particulars in this, and in paragraphs 3 to 10, are obtained from a statement dated 1831, submitted to the late Lord Campbell and Mr. Baron Gurney.
  • 6. These were the "Batchelors or Yeoman Taylors." They petitioned to be summoned to the dinner in 1648–9.
  • 7. See the Lord Mayor's precept against dinners, 1st August 1573. See also Appendix D (1).
  • 8. See Appendix D (3).
  • 9. See Mem. IX., and Appendices A (6) and D(3); also the Precept of 24th January 1566, for the Subsidy and Certificate of the Company's property [Mem. XVIII.]
  • 10. Men (35) armed to be furnished for the Queen's service, Lord Mayor acting for the Crown; precept dated 24th July 1562. Men to attend the Queen at Greenwich; Lord Mayor's precept, 25th March 1572. A standing Watch by order of the Privy Council, 12th May 1585. Lord Mayor's precept for soldiers of the Company to attend Sidney's funeral, 5th February 1586.
  • 11. Corn: Lord Mayor's precept, 2nd October 1562. 14th February 1565, to acquire and store arms and gunpowder. Lord Mayor's precept, by order of the Privy Council, to purchase and store gunpowder and arms, 8th October 1586, which led to the more extensive acquisitions of arms (stored in the gallery over the King's chamber), and the appointment of an armourer. Various entries, 6th October 1595, and 23rd March 1603. See Appendix D (2), p. 588.
  • 12. Lord Mayor's precept, dated May 1594. A pest-house for the City; the like for 234l. towards the King's coronation; both orders of the Common Council. The last order was made when Richard Gore was Master, and his return (dated 15th May 1603, and preserved in the Account Book), gives the names of every member of the Company, the Lord Mayor, Sir Robert Lee, being the 1st contributor. The assessment for the New Exchange on 14th January 1565, contains the List of the Company. 5,000l. was assessed on the Company to aid the King's Northern Army in 1640.
  • 13. The Company's Certificate to Elizabeth's Precept of 1566 [Mem. xviii.]
  • 14. See Note on Sir Robt. Lee's Mayoralty in Appendix F.
  • 15. "It ys agreed and decreed that the some of lxvjl. xiijs. iiijd. shalbe taken oute of the Treasory to paye unto the Lady Harper, accordinge to the agreemente made by Sir James Hawes, Knighte, Lord Mayor of London, wch some was taken oute the nexte daye in the p'sence of the Worll Mr. Edwarde Joanes, Mr. Richarde Hills, and Robt. Dowe, Warden, & delivered unto the said Mr. Joanes accordinglie."— [29th October 1575.] "Upon long experience of the care & fydelity of Mr. Henry Offley, a worll & auncient Member of this Company, who in degree and callinge in this House was nexte unto Mr. Robt. Hawes, a late worll & faithful Counsaillor of this Company, deceased, it hath pleased the Company to comyttee unto the Chardge & Custodie of Mr. Henry Offley one of the Keys of the Companies Treasury, which the said Mr. Robt. Hawes for diverse yeares, and until his death, did carefully keep."— [12th December 1601.]
  • 16. Court Minutes, 22nd March 1667.
  • 17.
    Item of Mr. Portman for pounds and ozs. £ s. d.
    of silver at 5s. 6d. per oz., the sum of 245 15 0
    Item of Major Wallis for 12 pounds 1½ ozs. of silver at 5s. 8d. per oz., the sum of 40 6 9
    Item of him more for silver that was found in the dust left in the Treasury 4 19 6
    (From the Master's account 1666 and 67.)