A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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There were guilds attached to all three town churches before the Reformation. The brothers of St. Chad at Stowe existed c. 1300, and the guild of St. Chad with land at Stowe was mentioned in 1365. It may still have been in existence in 1431. (fn. 1) There was a guild of St. John the Baptist attached to St. Mary's church in 1353. It had both men and women as members, and its chaplain was the chantry priest serving the altar of St. John the Baptist. (fn. 2) There was also a guild of St. Mary in the mid 14th century, and that too had a male and female membership. (fn. 3) In the earlier 16th century there was a guild of St. Michael with land adjoining St. Michael's churchyard. (fn. 4)
The two guilds attached to St. Mary's were amalgamated in 1387. That year Richard II licensed seven petitioners to found a guild of St. Mary and St. John the Baptist at Lichfield for a fee of £30. Bishop Scrope added his licence. (fn. 5) The petitioners were also given permission by the king to acquire property worth up to £10 a year for the maintenance of the guild and the support of its chaplain. In part satisfaction the king in 1392 licensed a grant of property in Lichfield to the guild. (fn. 6) Gifts of other lands followed. (fn. 7) By 1477 the guild held extensive property in Lichfield and in nearby parts of Staffordshire. In the city it had 12 burgages, including the White Hart in Saddler Street, 22 cottages, 4 shops, a tenement, a garden, 6 barns, and over 20 a. in the open fields. (fn. 8)
The members of the new guild appointed a master and four wardens and drew up ordinances for running the guild. The master and wardens were to be elected at an annual meeting of the brothers and sisters on the feast of the Conception of St. Mary (8 December) or in the week following. The electors were to be a committee consisting of six brethren chosen by the retiring master, three others chosen by those six, and the retiring wardens. Those elected had to live in Lichfield during their term of office, and anyone elected who refused to serve was to be expelled from the guild. The master and wardens were to issue livery each year ready for the Nativity of St. Mary (8 September), and on that day or within the week a feast attended by the brothers and sisters was to be held if the masters and wardens thought fit. New members were to be admitted at the discretion of the master and wardens, with whom an admission fee was to be agreed. (fn. 9) Most of the fees were paid in cash, and in the early 16th century they were normally between 20d. and 3s. 8d. Occasionally they took the form of land or goods; thus a parchment maker admitted in the early 15th century gave the parchment for a missal. (fn. 10) Other ordinances dealt with the standard disputes between members and the relief of members who became destitute.
Annual admissions in the earlier 15th century averaged 31 and rose to an average of 105 in the later part of the century, reaching 160 in the last two decades. In the 16th century the annual average was 93. (fn. 11) At least 167 members of the earlier guild of St. Mary were admitted posthumously into the new guild, and posthumous admissions continued, becoming particularly numerous in the earlier 16th century. (fn. 12) Besides Richard II and his queen, Anne, who head the list of members, many notable persons were admitted, including Henry VII in 1487 and his queen in 1494. Local gentry and the heads of religious houses in the Midlands figure prominently; leading inhabitants of several English towns also appear. (fn. 13)
In 1389 a full assembly was held in a private house. (fn. 14) A guildhall in Bore Street by 1421 may have been the 'Stayvethall' (or 'Staynethall') for which an ornament worth £3 was given c. 1406. (fn. 15) By the late 15th century the guild was participating in the government of the town, and the master was assisted by a group called the Fortyeight. (fn. 16)
The guild ordinances provided that there should be as many chaplains as was thought necessary by the worthier brethren. (fn. 17) A new chaplain was to be admitted by the master and wardens after the existing chaplains had checked his suitability. St. Mary's being the guild church, the chaplains were expected to help with the daily services and to be present at the mass of St. Mary and the anthem 'Salve Regina' each day. It was laid down that one of the guild chaplains was to be appointed clerk by the master and wardens with an annual remuneration of 6s. 8d.; he had to present an account of the guild's income and expenditure to the master and wardens when required. As stipulated in the ordinances, the guild chaplains lived in a house called the Priests' Hall which stood in Breadmarket Street opposite the south-west corner of the church. It was given to the guild by Adam Ingestre at the time of its foundation. (fn. 18) By 1389 the guild had bought a chalice and a vestment. (fn. 19) There were four guild priests in 1466, although one of them was then stated to be serving a cure in the Close and neglecting his duty of celebrating at St. Mary's. (fn. 20)
The guild was dissolved evidently in 1548. (fn. 21) Its lands then lay mainly in Lichfield with some in other parts of Staffordshire; property at Great Wyrley in Cannock, at Norton Canes, including Little Wyrley, and at Wall had been conveyed to trustees in 1545 for the maintenance of Lichfield's water supply. (fn. 22) The guild's net annual income was just over £41 in 1548. The guild was then supporting four priests, a deacon, two parish clerks, and two children to sing and celebrate daily in St. Mary's; the church's vestments included 'six copes for children'. The priest who acted as clerk to the guild received a stipend of £6 6s. 8d. and the other three priests one of £5 13s. 4d. each. A sum of £4 13s. 4d. was paid to the poor. The guild had 12 oz. of silvergilt plate, ornaments worth 3s. 2d., and household stuff in the guildhall worth £1 17s. 8d. One of the priests died in November 1548; the rest received pensions of £5 13s. 4d. each, and one of them was vicar of St. Mary's in the 1550s. Various smaller pensions were granted to four other 'incumbents' of the guild and to a chorister. (fn. 23) The Crown soon began to sell the guild's property piecemeal. In 1549, for example, two London speculators bought the chaplains' house, and another bought the guildhall. (fn. 24) It was alleged in 1571 that some of the property in Lichfield was still being concealed from the Crown. (fn. 25)
The guild seal in use in 1545 depicted the Virgin and Child. (fn. 26)
There is no contemporary evidence that there were craft guilds in Lichfield in the Middle Ages, but their existence in that period is suggested by a list of what were styled trade companies, drawn up probably in the 1650s. The list records those Lichfield companies whose members had been loyal to Charles I, giving the dates of origin and incorporation claimed by each company and a trick of their arms. In order of alleged age the companies were as follows: saddlers, in existence in Edward I's reign; vintners, incorporated in Edward III's reign and granted arms in 1427–8; mercers, established in 1393–4; masons, incorporated in the reign of Henry IV; shoemakers, incorporated in 1438–9; carpenters, established in 1477; barbers and surgeons, incorporated in Edward IV's reign; cooks, incorporated in the same reign; joiners, incorporated in 1570–1; painters and stainers, of 'great antiquity' but not incorporated until 1580; smiths, incorporated in Elizabeth I's reign; and butchers, incorporated in 1605. Three companies, the bakers, the farriers, and the glaziers, were described simply as ancient. (fn. 27) Of those listed the shoemakers are known from other evidence to have existed as a company in 1561, (fn. 28) the bakers in 1576, (fn. 29) the saddlers in 1594, (fn. 30) the smiths in 1601, (fn. 31) the mercers in 1623, (fn. 32) and the butchers in 1641. (fn. 33) The masons and carpenters were recorded as a single company in 1698. (fn. 34) Four companies were omitted from the 1650s list, presumably because their members were disloyal to the Crown, the clothworkers and weavers recorded in 1552, (fn. 35) the cappers in 1575, (fn. 36) the tailors in 1576, (fn. 37) and the tanners in 1625. (fn. 38)
The last recorded admission of a capper was in 1708 and of a tanner in 1753. (fn. 39) There were only two members of the mercers' company in 1786 and it became extinct c. 1797. (fn. 40) The bakers' and the clothworkers' companies still existed in 1833. (fn. 41) Although the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act took away the economic privileges of trade companies, the members of four Lichfield companies continued to meet for social purposes: butchers at least until 1865, (fn. 42) shoemakers at least until 1870, (fn. 43) tailors at least until 1880, (fn. 44) and smiths until 1896. (fn. 45) The smiths' company was revived in 1943 when the eldest son of one of the last members successfully claimed admittance and was enrolled in the presence of the mayor. In the late 1980s the company held its annual feast in February. Beside admitting freemen of its own craft, the revived company also admits as honorary freemen those who have given outstanding service to the city. (fn. 46)
Allied crafts were often included in one company. The saddlers were members of what in 1594 was styled the company of glovers, whittawers (workers in fine leather), and saddlers; the style varied in the 17th and 18th centuries and included bridle cutters, horse-collar makers, skinners, fellmongers, and makers of breeches. (fn. 47) The style of the mercers' company in 1623 included grocers, woollen drapers, linen drapers, silkmen, hosiers, salters, apothecaries, and haberdashers. (fn. 48) The shoemakers were members of what was more usually known as the company of corvisors and curriers. (fn. 49) The style of the smiths' company in 1601 included goldsmiths, ironmongers, cardmakers (makers of wire brushes used in combing wool), pewterers, plumbers, cutlers, and spurriers; by 1630 braziers and nailers had been added to the company's name. In addition ironmongers, locksmiths, tinplate makers, and watchmakers were admitted in the 17th century. (fn. 50) The butchers and the chandlers in 1641 together formed a company. (fn. 51)
Ordinances made in the late 16th and early 17th century gave details of the conditions for membership and of the government of the companies. (fn. 52) Freedom was open to the eldest son of a freeman, to an apprentice of seven years' standing, and to others who paid an entrance fee, normally £10. A widow who carried on her husband's trade was eligible for membership. (fn. 53) Each company was governed by one or more masters or wardens, chosen annually on or near a feast day: clothworkers, four masters or wardens at Corpus Christi; tailors, one master and two wardens within a month of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June); mercers, a master and two wardens on the Wednesday after the feast of St. James the apostle (25 July); butchers, two wardens on Lammas day (1 August); shoemakers, two wardens on the feast of St. Crispin and St. Crispian (25 October); tanners, two wardens at Martinmas (11 November); saddlers, two masters on St. Clement's day (23 November); bakers, two wardens on St. Clement's day; smiths, one master and two wardens on the Friday after St. Clement's day, changed in 1630 to the Wednesday; cappers, one master and two wardens on St. Catherine's day (25 November). The revived company of smiths installs its master at a mayoral court held on the last Tuesday in February. (fn. 54)
The ordinances also stated rules for the manufacture and sale of goods. From their records it is known that the tailors in 1659 investigated 'foreigners' working in the city, and that the smiths in 1701–2 acted against a man selling scythes and another selling candlesticks. (fn. 55) The decline of the mercers' company suggests that restrictive practices were abandoned in the distributive trades in the 18th century. Self regulation also took place. In 1676 the butchers agreed not to sell on Sundays, (fn. 56) and in 1766 Lichfield tradesmen imposed a ban on Sunday trading. (fn. 57)
The companies also had an important social function, providing members with convivial meetings. The election of officers was an occasion for feasting, which also took place at other times: the shoemakers had an additional feast at Corpus Christi in the later 16th century, (fn. 58) as did the tailors in the 17th century. (fn. 59) There is no evidence that any company had its own common hall, and the feasts were held at inns in the 18th century, and presumably earlier; the guildhall, however, may also have been a venue, and the tailors had a feast there in 1803. (fn. 60) Minstrels played at the shoemakers' feasts in the later 16th century, (fn. 61) and payments to musicians, including trumpeters, drummers, and boy choristers, were regularly made by the tailors and the smiths in the 17th and earlier 18th century. (fn. 62) The smiths' company bought a ceremonial cup for £20 1s. in 1708–9; it was presumably the silver cup sold in 1737. (fn. 63) Members' wives had their own meetings or were allowed to join their husbands after dinner; in 1786 the saddlers' company allowed married members to bring a substitute companion. (fn. 64) In the earlier 17th century the tailors paid 1s. or 2s. to 'the women', (fn. 65) and in 1701–2 the smiths spent 2s. on March beer (strong ale) for the women's wassail. (fn. 66) The shoemakers required attendance at the marriage and burial of a brother or sister member in the early 17th century, (fn. 67) and in the late 17th and early 18th century the smiths had their own funeral pall. (fn. 68)
Members were notified of meetings by a summoner or beadle: one was recorded for the smiths in 1672, (fn. 69) the shoemakers in 1681, (fn. 70) the cappers in 1695, (fn. 71) and the tailors in 1697. (fn. 72) Both the smiths and the shoemakers provided their summoner with a uniform and a badge of office. (fn. 73)
The companies' chief source of revenue was admission fees; other income included fines for breaching company rules and, for the smiths' company in the late 17th and early 18th century, a charge of 2s. 6d. each time the company's funeral pall was used. (fn. 74) The smiths also operated or participated in a lottery in 1757. (fn. 75) Most expenditure went on feasting, but a proportion of the fines and other income was normally assigned for poor relief. Payments to 'the poor man's box' were stipulated in ordinances made for the clothworkers in 1552, (fn. 76) the saddlers in 1594, (fn. 77) and the butchers in 1641. (fn. 78) The 1601 ordinances of the smiths' company required that half of the fines should be distributed to the city's poor. New ordinances in 1630 omitted that provision, but in the late 17th and early 18th century the smiths made regular payments of up to 5s. a year to poor travellers. (fn. 79)
Freedom of a company conferred the right to vote in parliamentary elections, and both the Whigs and the Tories arranged for large numbers of new freemen to be enrolled at election time. The smiths' company was often used for the purpose, and the resulting accumulation of capital from admission fees was distributed among members, £80 in 1747, £40 in 1753, and £186 in stages between 1799 and 1801. No distribution was made after the admission of 125 freemen to the company in April 1801 because a corrupt method of paying entrance fees had been employed. (fn. 80)