Old and New London: Volume 1. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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CHEAPSIDE TRIBUTARLES, NORTH (continued).
Milk Street—Sir Thomas More—The City of London School—St. Mary Magdalen—Honey Lane—All Hallows' Church—Lawrence Lane and St. Lawrence Church—Ironmonger Lane and Mercers' Hall—The Mercers' Company—Early Life Assurance Companies—The Mercers' Company in Trouble—Mercers' Chapel—St. Thomas Acon—The Mercers' School—Restoration of the Carvings in Mercers' Hall—The Glories of the Mercers' Company—Ironmonger Lane.
In Milk Street was the milk-market of Mediæval London. That good and wise man, Sir Thomas More, was born in this street. "The brightest man," says Fuller, with his usual quaint playfulness, "that ever shone in that via lactea." More, born in 1480, was the son of a judge of the King's Bench, and was educated at St. Anthony's School, in Threadneedle Street. He was afterwards placed in the family of Archbishop Morton, till he went to Oxford. After two years he became a barrister, at Lincoln, entered Parliament, and opposed Henry VII. to his own danger. After serving as law reader at New Inn, he soon became an eminent lawyer. He then wrote his "Utopia," acquired the friendship of Erasmus, and soon after became a favourite of Henry VIII., helping the despot in his treatise against Luther. On Wolsey's disgrace, More became chancellor, and one of the wisest and most impartial England has ever known. Determined not to sanction the king's divorce, More resigned his chancellorship, and, refusing to attend Anne Boleyn's coronation, he was attainted for treason. The tyrant, now furious, soon hurried him to the scaffold, and he was executed on Tower Hill in 1535.
This pious, wise, and consistent man is described as having dark chestnut hair, thin beard, and grey eyes. He walked with his right shoulder raised, and was negligent in his dress. When in the Tower, More is said to have foreseen the fate of Anne Boleyn, whom his daughter Margaret had found filling the court with dancing and sporting.
"Alas, Meg," said the ex-chancellor, "it pitieth me to remember to what misery poor soul she will shortly come. These dances of hers will prove such dances that she will sport our heads off like foot-balls; but it will not be long ere her head will dance the like dance."
It is to be lamented that with all his wisdom, More was a bigot. He burnt one Frith for denying the corporeal presence; had James Bainton, a gentleman of the Temple, whipped in his presence for heretical opinons; went to the Tower to see him on the rack, and then hurried him to Smithfield. "Verily," said Luther, "he was a very notable tyrant, and plagued and tormented innocent Christians like an executioner."
The City of London School, Milk Street, was established in 1837, for the sons of respectable persons engaged in professional, commercial, or trading pursuits; and partly founded on an income of £900 a year, derived from certain tenements bequeathed by John Carpenter, town-clerk of London, in the reign of Henry V., "for the finding and bringing up of four poor men's children, with meat, drink, apparel, learning at the schools, in the universities, &c., until they be preferred, and then others in their places for ever." This was the same John Carpenter who "caused, with great expense, to be curiously painted upon a board, about the north cloister of Paul's, a monument of Death, leading all estates, with the speeches of Death, and answers of every state." The school year is divided into three terms—Easter to July; August to Christmas; January to Easter; and the charge for each pupil is £2 5s. a term. The printed form of application for admission may be had of the secretary, and must be filled up by the parent or guardian, and signed by a member of the Corporation of London. The general course of instruction includes the English, French, German, Latin, and Greek languages, writing, arithmetic, mathematics, book-keeping, geography, and history. Besides eight free scholarships on the foundation, equivalent to £35 per annum each, and available as exhibitions to the Universities, there are the following exhibitions belonging to the school:—The "Times" Scholarship, value £30 per annum; three Beaufoy Scholarships, the Solomons Scholarship, and the Travers Scholarship, £50 per annum each; the Tegg Scholarship, nearly £20 per annum; and several other valuable prizes. The first stone of the school was laid by Lord Brougham, October 21st, 1835. The architect of the building was Mr. J. B. Bunning, of Guildford Street, Russell Square, and the entire cost, including fittings and furniture, was nearly £20,000. It is about 75 feet wide in front, next Milk Street, and is about 160 feet long; it contains eleven class-rooms of various dimensions, a spacious theatre for lectures, &c., a library, committee-room, with a commodious residence in the front for the head master and his family. The lectures, founded by Sir Thomas Gresham, on divinity, astronomy, music, geometry, law, physics, and rhetoric, which upon the demolition of Gresham College had been delivered at the Royal Exchange from the year 1773, were after the destruction of that building by fire, in January, 1838, read in the theatre of the City of London School until 1843; they were delivered each day during the four Law Terms, and the public in general were entitled to free admission.
In Milk Street stood the small parish church of St. Mary Magdalen, destroyed in the Great Fire. It was repaired and beautified at the charge of the parish in 1619. All the chancel window was built at the proper cost of Mr. Benjamin Henshaw, Merchant Taylor, and one of the City captains.
This church was burnt down in the Great Fire, and was not rebuilt. One amusing epitaph has been preserved:—
"Here lieth the body of Sir William Stone, Knt.
"As the Earth the
Earth doth cover,
So under this stone
Sir William Stone,
Who long deceased,
Ere the world's love
So much it loved him,
For they say,
He answered Death
Before his day;
But, 'tis not so;
For he was sought
Of One that both him
Made and bought.
The Great Lord's Treasurer,
Who called for him
At his pleasure,
And received him.
Yet be it said,
Earth grieved that Heaven
So soon was paid.
"Here likewise lyes
Inhumed in one bed,
The well-beloved wife
Of this remembered Knight;
Whose souls are fled
From this dimure vale
To everlasting life,
Where no more change,
Nor no more separation,
Shall make them flye
From their blest habitation.
Grasse of levitie,
Span in brevity,
Fire of misery,
"Honey Lane," says good old Stow, "is so called not of sweetness thereof, being very narrow and small and dark, but rather of often washing and sweeping to keep it clean." With all due respect to Stow, we suspect that the lane did not derive its name from any superlative cleanliness, but more probably from honey being sold here in the times before sugar became common and honey alone was used by cooks for sweetening.
On the site of All Hallows' Church, destroyed in the Great Fire, a market was afterwards established.
"There be no monuments," says Stow, "in this church worth the noting; I find that John Norman, Maior, 1453, was buried there. He gave to the drapers his tenements on the north side of the said church; they to allow for the beam light and lamp 13s. 4d. yearly, from this lane to the Standard.
"This church hath the misfortune to have no bequests to church or poor, nor to any publick use.
"There was a parsonage house before the Great Fire, but now the ground on which it stood is swallowed up by the market. The parish of St. Maryle-Bow (to which it is united) hath received all the money paid for the site of the ground of the said parsonage."
All Hallows' Church was repaired and beautified at the cost of the parishioners in 1625.
Lawrence Lane derives its name from the church of St. Lawrence, at its north end. "Antiquities," says Stow, "in this lane I find none other than among many fair houses. There is one large inn for receipt of travellers, called 'Blossoms Inn,' but corruptly 'Bosoms Inn,' and hath for a sign 'St. Lawrence, the Deacon,' in a border of blossoms or flowers." This was one of the great City inns set apart for Charles V.'s suite, when he came over to visit Henry VIII. in 1522. At the sign of "St. Lawrence Bosoms" twenty beds and stabling for sixty horses were ordered.
The curious old tract about Bankes and his trained horse was written under the assumed names of "John Dando, the wier-drawer of Hadley, and Harrie Runt, head ostler of Besomes Inne," which is probably the same place.
St. Lawrence Church is situate on the north side of Cateaton Street, "and is denominated," says Maitland, "from its dedication to Lawrence, a Spanish saint, born at Huesca, in the kingdom of Arragon; who, after having undergone the most grievous tortures, in the persecution under Valerian, the emperor, was cruelly broiled alive upon a gridiron, with a slow fire, till he died, for his strict adherence to Christianity; and the additional epithet of Jewry, from its situation among the Jews, was conferred upon it, to distinguish it from the church of St. Lawrence Pulteney, now demolished.
"This church, which was anciently a rectory, being given by Hugo de Wickenbroke to Baliol College in Oxford, anno 1294, the rectory ceased; wherefore Richard, Bishop of London, converted the same into a vicarage; the advowson whereof still continues in the same college. This church sharing the common fate in 1666, it has since been beautifully rebuilt, and the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, Milk Street, thereunto annexed." The famous Sir Richard Gresham lies buried here, with the following inscription on his tomb:—
"Here lyeth the great Sir Richard Gresham, Knight, some time Lord Maior of London; and Audrey, his first wife, by whom he had issue, Sir John Gresham and Sir Thomas Gresham, Knights, William and Margaret; which Sir Richard deceased the 20th day of February, An. Domini 1548, and the third yeere of King Edward the Sixth his Reigne, and Audrey deceased the 28th day of December, An. Dom. 1522."
There is also this epitaph:—
"Lo here the Lady Margaret North,
In tombe and earth do lye;
Of husbands four the faithfull spouse,
Whose fame shall never dye.
One Andrew Franncis was the first,
The second Robert hight,
Surnamed Chartsey, Alderman;
Sir David Brooke, a knight,
Was third. But he that passed all,
And was in number fourth,
And for his virtue made a Lord,
Was called Sir Edward North.
These altogether do I wish
A joyful rising day;
That of the Lord and of his Christ,
All honour they may say.
Obiit 2 die Junii, An. Dom. 1575."
In Ironmonger Lane, inhabited by ironmongers temp. Edward I., is Mercers' Hall, an interesting building.
The Mercers, though not formally incorporated till the 17th of Richard II. (1393), are traced back by Herbert as early as 1172. Soon afterwards they are mentioned as patrons of one of the great London charities. In 1214, Robert Spencer, a mercer, was mayor. In 1296 the mercers joined the company of merchant adventurers in establishing in Edward I.'s reign, a woollen manufacture in England, with a branch at Antwerp. In Edward II.'s reign they are mentioned as "the Fraternity of Mercers," and in 1406 (Henry I.) they are styled in a charter, "Brothers of St. Thomas à Becket."
Mercers were at first general dealers in all small wares, including wigs, haberdashery, and even spices and drugs. They attended fairs and markets, and even sat on the ground to sell their wares—in fact, were little more than high-class pedlers. The poet Gower talks of "the depression of such mercerie." In late times the silk trade formed the main feature of their business; the greater use of silk beginning about 1573.
The mercers' first station, in Henry II.'s reign, was in that part of Cheap on the north side where Mercers' Hall now stands, but they removed soon afterwards higher up on the south side. The part of Cheapside between Bow Church and Friday Street became known as the Mercery. Here, in front of a large meadow called the "Crownsild," they held their little stalls or standings from Soper's Lane and the Standard. There were no houses as yet in this part of Cheapside. In 1321 William Elsgup, a mercer, founded an hospital within Cripplegate, for 100 poor blind men, and became prior of his own institution.
In 1351 (Edward III.), the Mercers grew jealous of the Lombard merchants, and on Midsummer Day three mercers were sent to the Tower for attacking two Lombards in the Old Jewry. The mercers in this reign sold woollen clothes, but not silks. In 1371, John Barnes, mercer, mayor, gave a chest with three locks, with 1,000 marks therein, to be lent to younger mercers, upon sufficient pawn and for the use thereof. The grateful recipients were merely to say "De Profundis," a Pater Noster, and no more. This bequest seems to have started among the Mercers the kindly practice of assisting the young and struggling members of this Company.
In the reign of Henry VI. the mercers had become great dealers in silks and velvets, and had resigned to the haberdashers the sale of small articles of dress. It is not known whether the mercers bought their silks from the Lombards, or the London silk-women, or whether they imported them themselves, since many of the members of the Company were merchants.
Twenty years after the murder of Becket, the murdered man's sister, who had married Thomas Fitz Theobald de Helles, built a chapel and hospital of Augustine Friars close to Ironmonger Lane, Cheapside. The hospital was built on the site of the house where Becket was born. He was the son of Gilbert Becket, citizen, mercer and portreve of London, who was said to have been a Crusader, and to have married a fair Saracen, who had released him from prison, and who followed him to London, knowing only the one English word "Gilbert." The hospital, which was called "St. Thomas of Acon," from Becket's mother having been born at Acre, the ancient Ptolemais, was given to the Mercers' Fraternity by De Hilles and his wife, and Henry III. gave the master and twelve brothers all the land between St. Olave's and Ironmonger Lane, which had belonged to two rich Jews, to enlarge their ground. In Henry V.'s reign that illustrious mercer Whittington, by his wealth and charity, reflected great lustre on the Mercers' Company, who at his death were left trustees of the college and almshouses founded by the immortal Richard on College Hill. The Company still preserve the original ordinance of this charity with a curious picture of Whittington's death, and of the first three wardens, Coventry, Grove, and Carpenter.
In 1414, Thomas Falconer, mercer and mayor, lent Henry V., towards his French wars, ten marks upon jewels.
In 1513, Joan Bradbury, widow of Thomas Bradbury, late Lord Mayor of London, left the Conduit Mead (now New Bond Street), to the Mercers' Company for charitable uses. In pursuance of the King's grant on this occasion, the Bishop of Norwich and others granted the Mercers' Company 29 acres of land in Marylebone, 120 acres in Westminster, and St. Giles, and St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, of the annual value of £13 6s. 8d., and in part satisfaction of the said £20 a year. The Company still possess eight acres and a half of this old gift, forming the north side of Long Acre and the adjacent streets, one of which bears the name of the Company. Mercer Street was described in a parliamentary survey in 1650 to have long gardens reaching down to Cock and Pye Ditch, and the site of Seven Dials. In 1544 the three Greshams (at the time the twelve Companies were appealed to) lent Henry VIII. upon mortgaged lands £1,673 6s. 8d. In 1561, the wardens of the Mercers' Company were summoned before the Queen's Council for selling their velvets, satins, and damasks so dear, as English coin was no longer base, and the old excuse for the former high charges was gone. The Mercers prudently bowed before the storm, promised reform, and begged her Majesty's Council to look after the Grocers. At this time the chief vendors of Italian silks lived in Cheapside, St. Lawrence Jewry, and Old Jewry.
During the civil wars both King and Parliament bore heavily on the Mercers. In 1640 Charles I. half forced from them a loan of £3,030, and in 1642 the Parliament borrowed £6,500, and arms from the Company's armoury, valued at £88. They afterwards gave further arms, valued at £71 13s. 4d., and advanced as a second loan £3,200. The result now became visible. In 1698, hoping to clear off their debts, the Mercers' Company engaged in a ruinous insurance scheme, suggested by Dr. Assheton, a Kentish rector. It was proposed to grant annuities of £30 per cent. to clergymen's widows according to certain sums paid by their husbands.
"Pledging the rents of their large landed estates as security for the fulfilment of their contracts with usurers, the Mercers entered on business as life assurance agents. Limiting the entire amount of subscription to £100,000, they decided that no person over sixty years of age should become a subscriber; that no subscriber should subscribe less than £50—i.e., should purchase a smaller contingent annuity than one of £15; that the annuity to every subscriber's widow, or other person for whom the insurance was effected, should be at the rate of £30 for every £100 of subscription. It was stipulated that subscribers must be in good and perfect health at the time of subscription. It was decided that all married men of the age of thirty years or under, might subscribe any sum from £50 to £1,000; that all married men, not exceeding sixty years of age, might subscribe any sum not less than £50, and not exceeding £300. The Company's prospectus further stipulates 'that no person that goes to sea, nor soldier that goes to the wars, shall be admitted to subscribe to have the benefit of this proposal, in regard of the casualties and accidents that they are more particularly liable to.' Moreover, it was provided that 'in case it should happen that any man who had subscribed should voluntarily make away with himself, or by any act of his occasion his own death, either by duelling, or committing any crime whereby he should be sentenced to be put to death by justice; in any or either of these cases his widow should receive no annuity, but upon delivering up the Company's bond, should have the subscription money paid to her.'
"The Mercers' operations soon gave rise to more business-like companies, specially created to secure the public against some of the calamitous consequences of death. In 1706, the Amicable Life Assurance Office—usually, though, as the reader has seen, incorrectly, termed the First Life Insurance Office—was established in imitation of the Mercers' Office. Two years later, the Second Society of Assurance, for the support of widows and orphans, was opened in Dublin, which, like the Amicable, introduced numerous improvements upon Dr. Assheton's scheme, and was a Joint-Stock Life Assurance Society, identical in its principles with, and similar in most of its details to, the modern insurance companies, of which there were as many as one hundred and sixty in the year 1859."
Large sums were subscribed, but the annuities were fixed too high, and the Company had to sink to 18 per cent., and even this proved an insufficient reduction. In 1745 they were compelled to stop. and, after several ineffectual struggles, to petition Parliament.
The petition showed that the Mercers were indebted more than £100,000. The annuities then out amounted to £7,620 per annum, and the subscriptions for future amounts reached £10,000 a year; while to answer these claims their present income only amounted to £4,100 per annum. The Company was therefore empowered by Act of Parliament, 4 George III., to issue new bonds and pay them off by a lottery, drawn in their own hall. This plan had the effect of completely retrieving their affairs, and restoring them again to prosperity.
Strype speaks of the mercers' shops situated on the south side of Cheapside as having been turned from mere sheds into handsome buildings four or five storeys high.
Mercers' Hall and Chapel have a history of their own. On the rough suppression of monastic institutions, Henry VIII., gorged with plunder, granted to the Mercers' Company for £969 17s. 6d. the church of the college of St. Thomas Acon, the parsonage of St. Mary Colechurch, and sundry premises in the parishes of St. Paul, Old Jewry, St. Stephen, Walbrook, St. Martin, Ironmonger Lane, and St. Stephen, Coleman Street. Immediately behind the great doors of the hospital and Mercers' Hall stood the hospital church of St. Thomas, and at the back were court-yards, cloisters, and gardens in a great wide enclosure east and west of Ironmonger Lane and the Old Jewry.
St. Thomas's Church was a large structure, probably rich in monuments, though many of the illustrious mercers were buried in Bow Church, St. Pancras, Soper Lane, St. Antholin's, Watling Street, and St. Benet Sherehog. The church was bought chiefly by Sir Richard Gresham's influence, and Stow tells us "it is now called Mercers' Chappell, and therein is kept a free grammar school as of old time had been accustomed." The original Mercers' Chapel was a chapel toward the street in front of the "great old chapel of St. Thomas," and over it was Mercers' Hall. Aggas's plan of London (circa 1560) shows it was a little above the Great Conduit of Cheapside. The small chapel was built by Sir John Allen, mercer and mayor (1521), and he was buried there; but the Mercers removed this tomb into the hospital church, and divided the chapel into shops. Grey, the founder of the hospital, was apprenticed to a bookseller who occupied one of these shops, and after the Fire of London he himself carried on the same trade in a shop which was built on the same site. Before the suppression, the Mercers only occupied a shop of the present front, the modern Mercers' Chapel standing, says Herbert, exactly on the site of part of the hospital church.
The old hospital gate, which forms the present hospital entrance, had an image of St. Thomas à Becket, but this was pulled down by Elizabethan fanatics. The interior of the chapel remains unaltered. There is a large ambulatory before it supported by columns, and a stone staircase leads to the hall and court-rooms. The ambulatory contains the recumbent figure of Richard Fishborne, Mercer, dressed in a fur gown and ruff. He was a great benefactor to the Company, and died in 1623 (James I.).
Many eminent citizens were buried in St. Thomas's, though most of the monuments had been defaced even in Stow's time. Among them were ten Mercer mayors and sheriffs, ten grocers (probably from Bucklersbury, their special locality), Sir Edward Shaw, goldsmith to Richard III., two Earls of Ormond, and Stephen Cavendish, draper and mayor (1362), whose descendants were ancestors of the ducal families of Cavendish and Devonshire.
William Downer, of London, gent., by his last will, dated 26th June, 1484, gave orders for his body to be buried within the church of St. Thomas Acon's, of London, in these terms:—"So that every year, yearly for evermore, in their foresaid churche, at such time of the year as it shal happen me to dy, observe and keep an obyte, or an anniversary for my sowl, the sowles of my seyd wyfe, the sowles of my fader and moder, and al Christian sowles, with placebo and dirige on the even, and mass of requiem on the morrow following solemnly by note for evermore."
Previous to the suppression, Henry VIII. had permitted the Hospital of St. Thomas of Acon, which wanted room, to throw a gallery across Old Jewry into a garden which the master had purchased, adjoining the Grocers' Hall, and in which Sir Robert Clayton afterwards built a house, of which we shall have to speak in its place. The gallery was to have two windows, and in the winter a light was ordered to be burned there for the comfort of passers-by. In 1536, Henry VIII. and his queen, Jane Seymour, stood in the Mercers' Hall, then newly built, and saw the "marching watch of the City" most bravely set out by its founder, Sir John Allen, mercer and mayor, and one of the Privy Council.
In the reign of James I., Mercers' Chapel became a fashionable place of resort; gallants and ladies crowded there to hear the sermons of the learned Italian Archbishop of Spalatro, in Dalmatia, one of the few prize converts to Protestantism. In 1617 we look in and find among his auditors the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Earls of Arundel and Pembroke, and Lords Zouch and Compton. The chapel continued for many years to be used for Italian sermons preached to English merchants who had resided abroad, and who partly defrayed the expense. The Mercers' School was first held in the hospital and then removed to the mercery.
The present chapel front in Cheapside is the central part alone of the front built after the Great Fire. Correspondent houses, five storeys high, formerly gave breadth and effect to the whole mass, Old views represent shops on each side with unsashed windows. The first floors have stone balconies, and over the central window of each room is the bust of a crowned virgin. It has a large doorcase, enriched with two genii above, in the act of mantling the Virgin's head, the Company's cognomen displayed upon the keystone of the arch. Above is a cornice, with brackets, sustaining a small gallery, from which, on each side, arise Doric pilasters, supporting an entablature of the same order; between the intercolumns and the central window are the figures of Faith and Hope, in niches, between whom, in a third niche of the entablature, is Charity, sitting with her three children. The upper storey has circular windows and other enrichments.
The entrance most used is in Ironmonger Lane, where is a small court, with offices, apparently the site of the ancient cloister, and which leads to the principal building. The hall itself is elevated as anciently, and supported by Doric columns, the space below being open one side and forming an extensive piazza, at the extremity whereof is the chapel, which is neatly planned, wainscoted, and paved with black and white marble. A high flight of stairs leads from the piazza to the hall, which is a very lofty apartment, handsomely wainscoted and ornamented with Doric pilasters, and various carvings in compartments.
In the hall, besides the transaction of the Company's business, the Gresham committees are held, which consist of four aldermen, including the Lord Mayor pro tempore, and eight of the City corporation, with whom are associated a select number of the assistants of the Mercers. In this hall also the British Fishery Society, and other corporate bodies, were formerly accustomed to hold their meetings.
The chief portraits in the hall are those of Sir Thomas Gresham (original), a fanciful portrait of Sir Richard Whittington, a likeness of Count Tekeli (the hero of the old opera), Count Panington; Dean Colet (the illustrious friend of Erasmus, and the founder of St. Paul's school); Thomas Papillon, Master of the Company in 1698, who left £1,000 to the Company, to relieve any of his family that ever came to want; and Rowland Wynne, Master of the Company in 1675. Wynne gave £400 towards the repairing of the hall after the Great Fire.
In Strype's time (1720), the Mercers' Company gave away £3,000 a year in charity. In 1745 the Company's money legacies amounted to £21,699 5s. 9d., out of which the Company paid annually £573 17s. 4d. In 1832, the lapsed legacies of the Company became the subject of a Chancery suit; the result was that money is now lent to liverymen or freemen of the Company requiring assistance in sums of £100, and not exceeding £500, for a term, without interest, but only upon approved security.
The present Mercers' School, which is but lately finished, is a very elegant stone structure, adjoining St. Michael's Church, College Hill, on the site of Whittington's Almshouses, which had been removed to Highgate to make room for it.
The school scholarship is in the gift of the Mercers' Company, and it must not be forgotten that Caxton, the first great English printer, was a member of this livery.
Subsequently to the Great Fire, says Herbert, there was some discussion with Parliament on rebuilding the Mercers' School on the former site of St. Mary Colechurch. That site, however, was ultimately rejected, and by the Rebuilding Act, 22 Charles II. (1670), it was expressly provided that there should be a plot of ground, on the western side of the Old Jewry, "set apart for the Mercers' School." Persons who remember the building, says Herbert, describe it whilst here as an oldfashioned house for the masters' residence, with projecting upper storeys, a low, spacious building by the side of it for the schoolroom, and an area behind it for a playground, the whole being situate on the west side of the Old Jewry, about forty yards from Cheapside.
The great value of ground on the above spot, and a desire to widen, as at present, the entrance to the Old Jewry, occasioned the temporary removal of the Mercers' School, in 1787, to No. 13, Budge Row, about thirty yards from Dowgate Hill (a house of the Company's, which was afterwards burnt down). In 1804 it was again temporarily removed to No. 20, Red Lion Court, Watling Street; and from thence, in 1808, to its present situation on College Hill. The latter premises were hired by the Company, at the rent of £120, and the average expense of the school was £677 1s. 1d. The salary of the master is £200, and £50 gratuity, with a house to live in, rent and taxes free. Writing, arithmetic, and merchant's accounts were added to the Greek and Latin classics, in 1804; and a writing-master was engaged, who has a salary of £120, and a gratuity of £20, but no house. There are two exhibitions belonging to the school.
With the Mercers' Hospital, in the Middle Ages, many curious old City customs were connected. The customary devotions of the new Lord Mayor, at St. Thomas of Acon Church, in the Catholic times, identify themselves in point of locality with the Mercers' Company, and are to be ranked amongst that Company's observances. Strype has described these, from an ancient MS. he met with on the subject. The new Lord Mayor, it states, "after dinner," on his inauguration day (the ceremony would have suited much better before dinner in modern days), "was wont to go from his house to the Church of St. Thomas of Acon, those of his livery going before him; and the aldermen in like manner being there met together, they came to the Church of St. Paul, whither, when they were come, namely, in the middle place between the body of the church, between two little doors, they were wont to pray for the soul of the Bishop of London. William Norman, who was a great benefactor to the City, in obtaining the confirmation of their liberties from William the Conqueror, a priest saying the office De Profundis (called a dirge); and from thence they passed to the churchyard, where Thomas à Becket's parents were buried, and there, near their tomb, they said also, for all the faithful deceased, De Profundis again. The City procession thence returned through Cheapside Market, sometimes with wax candles burning (if it was late), to the said Church Sanctæ Thomæ, and there the mayor and aldermen offered single pence, which being done, every one went to his home."
On all saints' days, and various other festivals, the mayor with his family attended at this same Church of St. Thomas, and the aldermen also, and those that were "of the livery of the mayor, with the honest men of the mysteries," in their several habits, or suits, from which they went to St. Paul's to hear vespers. On the Feast of Innocents they heard vespers at St. Thomas's, and on the morrow mass and vespers.
The Mercers' election cup, says Timbs, of early sixteenth century work, was silver-gilt, decorated with fret-work and female busts; the feet, flasks; and on the cover is the popular legend of an unicorn yielding its horn to a maiden. The whole is enamelled with coats of arms, and these lines—
"To elect the Master of the Mercerie hither am I sent,
And by Sir Thomas Leigh for the same intent."
The Company also possess a silver-gilt wagon and tun, covered with arabesques and enamels, of sixteenth century work. The hall was originally decorated with carvings; the main stem of deal, the fruit, flowers, &c., of lime, pear, and beech. These becoming worm-eaten, were long since removed from the panelling and put aside; but they have been restored by Mr. Henry Crace, who thus describes the process:—
"The carving is of the same colour as when taken down. I merely washed it, and with a gimlet bored a number of holes in the back, and into every projecting piece of fruit and leaves on the face, and placing the whole in a long trough, fifteen inches deep, I covered it with a solution prepared in the following manner:—I took sixteen gallons of linseed oil, with 2 lbs. of litharge, finely ground, 1 lb. of camphor, and 2 lbs. of red lead, which I boiled for six hours, keeping it stirred, that every ingredient might be perfectly incorporated. I then dissolved 6 lbs. of bees'-wax in a gallon of spirits of turpentine, and mixed the whole, while warm, thoroughly together.
"In this solution the carving remained for twentyfour hours. When taken out, I kept the face downwards, that the oil might soak down to the face of the carving; and on cutting some of the wood nearly nine inches deep, I found it had soaked through, for not any of the dust was blown out, as I considered it a valuable medium to form a substance for the future support of the wood. This has been accomplished, and, as the dust became saturated with the oil, it increased in bulk, and rendered the carving perfectly solid."
The Company is now governed by a master, three wardens, and a court of thirty-one or more assistants. The livery fine is 53s. 4d. The Mercers' Company, though not by any means the most ancient of the leading City companies, takes precedence of all. Such anomalous institutions are the City companies, that, curious to relate, the present body hardly includes one mercer among them. In Henry VIII.'s reign the Company (freemen, householders, and livery) amounted to fifty-three persons; in 1701 it had almost quadrupled. Strype (1754) only enumerates fifty-two mayors who had been mercers, from 1214 to 1701; this is below the mark. Halkins over-estimates the mercer mayors as ninety-eight up to 1708. Few monarchs have been mercers, yet Richard II. was a free brother, and Queen Elizabeth a free sister.
Half our modern nobility have sprung from the trades they now despise. Many of the great mercers became the founders of noble houses; for instance—Sir John Coventry (1425), ancestor of the present Earl of Coventry; Sir Geoffrey Bullen, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth; Sir William Hollis, ancestor of the Earls of Clare. From Sir Richard Dormer (1542) sprang the Lords Dormer; from Sir Thomas Baldry (1523) the Lords Kensington (Rich); from Sir Thomas Seymour (1527) the Dukes of Somerset; from Sir Baptist Hicks, the great mercer of James I., who built Hicks' Hall, on Clerkenwell Green, sprang the Viscounts Camden; from Sir Rowland Hill, the Lords Hill; from James Butler (Henry II.) the Earls of Ormond; from Sir Geoffrey Fielding, Privy Councillor to Henry II. and Richard I., the Earls of Denbigh.
The costume of the Mercers became fixed about the reign of Charles I. The master and wardens led the civic processions, "faced in furs," with the lords; the livery followed in gowns faced with satins, the livery of all other Companies wearing facings of fringe.
"In Ironmonger Lane," says Stow, giving us a glimpse of old London, "is the small parish church of St. Martin, called Pomary, upon what occasion certainly I know not; but it is supposed to be of apples growing where now houses are lately builded, for myself have seen the large void places there." The church was repaired in the year 1629. Mr. Stodder left 40s. for a sermon to be preached on St. James's Day by an unbeneficed minister, in commemoration of the deliverance in the year 1588 (Armada); and 50s. more to the use of the poor of the same parish, to be paid by the Ironmongers.