Salisbury: Trade companies since 1612

Pages 136-138

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.

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One of the first acts of the corporation under the charter of 1612 was to order all trades and crafts to form themselves into companies and submit their constitutions to be officially confirmed and sealed by the mayor. The weavers, with their royal charter, kept their independent organization; but in the course of 1612, 1613, and 1614 all the other crafts complied with the orders, except the brewers, whose draft constitution was not submitted until 1615. (fn. 1) A number of general rules, forbidding the practice of crafts or trades in the city by those who were not freemen of the appropriate company, regulating apprenticeship and the employment of journeymen, forbidding trade on Sunday, and providing penalties for breaking these rules or for the neglect of their duties by officials, were common to all the new constitutions; and provision was made for the nomination by each company of searchers, viewers, and sealers, to be appointed by and sworn before the city's Justices of the Peace. (fn. 2)

The first company to have its new constitution confirmed was that of the smiths, which included smiths, armourers, cutlers, pewterers, braziers, bellfounders, ironmongers, watchmakers, wire drawers, saddlers, cardmakers and pinmakers. (fn. 3) The smiths were shortly followed by the clothworkers, the shoemakers, the glovers, whose company also included the parchment-makers and collar-makers, (fn. 4) and the joiners, whose company included wheelers, worstedmakers, bookbinders, carpenters, millwrights, coopers, freemasons, rough masons, painters, instrument-makers, ropemakers, turners, sawyers and bellows-makers. Frequent disputes between the various trades included in the joiners' company occurred in the 17th century, and in 1622 the corporation ordered their division into two companies — joiners, painters, ropemakers, and bookbinders in one, the rest of the trades in the other. In 1675, however, they were once more all in one company, and bricklayers and plumbers were added. (fn. 5) The cooks and bakers formed one company in 1613, but a dispute arose in 1620, and the new constitution was revoked and the cooks made into a separate company, with the sole right to make cakes and sweet bread. The bakers' company was reconstituted in 1622; they were forbidden to make any but plain bread, except for Good Friday, Christmas, and funerals, to sell bread in the market, or to lend money to any innkeeper in order to get his custom. (fn. 6) The constitution of the butchers' company included stringent regulations about the disposal of offal, which was not to be thrown into the Town Ditch, nor over Fisherton Bridge 'except it be in the current of the river' or down the stairs appointed for the purpose, apparently by the Pudding Bridge. (fn. 7) The regulations of the barbersurgeons forbade the unskilful surgical activities of 'divers women … who do oftentimes takes cures on them, to the great danger of the patient'. This company had the privilege of receiving the bodies of executed criminals for the study of anatomy. (fn. 8)

Several of these constitutions were altered, revoked, and re-issued during the 17th century. That of the joiners was cancelled in 1616 and re-issued in 1617; that of the brewers was revoked in 1623 in the midst of the dispute between the company and the corporation over the city brewhouse. (fn. 9) In 1632 the corporation dissolved the company of shoemakers because the wardens had accepted a bribe from William Baker, a plumber, to admit him to the company. The company presented a petition admitting their fault and asking to be restored, and they were once more constituted as the company of shoemakers, curriers, and last-makers. (fn. 10) The tanners and bridle-makers were established as a separate company in 1664. (fn. 11) Under the city's new charter in 1675 all the constitutions of the trade companies were declared void and new ones were issued, and a similar order, which seems to have been largely ignored by the trade companies, was made under the charter of 1685. (fn. 12) The company of merchants, which included all trades selling goods produced by others, was re-constituted as a company in 1690, having been discontinued some time after 1675. (fn. 13)

The trade companies appear to have been very active throughout the 17th century, particularly the tailors, the shoemakers, and the joiners. (fn. 14) The corporation also appears to have taken an active interest in the companies and to have supported them in excluding strangers from trading in the city. In 1626 the council passed a resolution forbidding strangers to set up shop or sell wares in the city, except at the regular fairs, and restraining the setting-up of trades prejudicial to the city in Fisherton, Milford, Harnham, and the Close; in 1636 a similar resolution forbade the letting of houses or shops to strangers on pain of £10, and also forbade the putting out of work outside the city if it could be done inside; and a resolution of 1639 ordered all tradesmen to 'cast themselves into companies'. In the same year Henry Ellmer, surgeon, was ordered to get himself admitted a free brother of the company of barber-surgeons, for otherwise the company might start a suit against him. In 1650 committees of aldermen and assistants for each ward were set up to inquire, among other things, the names of those who entertained strangers, the names of those strangers, and how long they had stayed. (fn. 15) Eight years later a further order was made requiring all tradesmen within the city, who were not freemen of one of the companies, to become so before a certain date. (fn. 16) This seems to have been the last order of this kind for some time; but in 1706 a by-law to the same effect was passed; (fn. 17) and at about the same time the tailors' company was petitioning Parliament for an Act to suppress those unlawfully practising the trade in the city. (fn. 18)

Henceforth attempts to exclude strangers seem to have ceased, and the power and activity of the trade companies also declined. The weavers' company exercised control only sporadically in the 17th century; and in the 18th century it struggled, with decreasing success, to keep up the old rules and customs in bad economic conditions, constantly petitioning the corporation about the export of wool and the employment of strangers by the masters. (fn. 19) It greatly declined in numbers from about 1784 onwards. Three craft companies connected with cloth-making took part in the procession during the peace celebrations in 1814, but the weavers' company took no part in the Reform celebrations in 1832, and had probably ceased to exist a few years previously. (fn. 20) The company continued to use its hall in Endless Street (fn. 21) until 1784 when it was provided with a new building in Rollestone Street by Joseph Everett, master weaver and clothier. This is thought to have been the house at the south-west corner of Rollestone Street and Salt Lane, having one very large room, which in 1912 was called Cambridge House School, and was run by a Miss Harrison. (fn. 22)

Only seven members of the tailors' company remained in 1810 and the last admission was made in 1835. (fn. 23) The company's hall at the corner of Milford and Pennyfarthing Streets (fn. 24) was shared by the clothworkers from 1613 until 1784, using the lower room for their meetings, and the upper room for their feasts. (fn. 25) In the middle of the next century the glovers and parchment-makers also used this hall once a month. (fn. 26) The hall was disposed of with other property by the last two surviving members of the guild in 1880. (fn. 27) It is known to have contained a lower hall, kitchen, pantry, cellar, and coalhouse, and the upper floor consisted entirely of one large hall panelled in oak to a height of 6 ft. (fn. 28) It was apparently a stone building but all that remains of it is part of the undercroft and the western bay window, all of 16th-century date. Some stained glass from one of its windows is in the Salisbury Museum together with fifteen of the wardens' shields from its walls. Goblets belonging to the company dated 1631 and 1646 were purchased by the Merchant Tailors of London in 1905 and 1937. (fn. 29)

The shoemakers' company took part in the processions in 1750, 1784, and 1814, but from 1784 onwards their numbers declined and it appears that before this date they had abandoned any attempt to control an expanding industry on medieval guild principles. (fn. 30) In 1638 Philip Crew, a schoolmaster, and the son of a shoemaker, left his house at the corner of Rollestone Street and Salt Lane to the shoemakers' company. (fn. 31) The house, now the Pheasant Inn, (fn. 32) was then extended at the back to provide a first-floor hall, with buttery beneath, known as Crew Hall, which still (1960) exists as an irregular timber-framed room. Subsequent purchases increased the company's property in this vicinity to five tenements. (fn. 33) Crew Hall was also used by the clothworkers' company for their assemblies c. 1780–90. The connexion with the shoemakers was severed when the last portion of their property was sold in 1828. (fn. 34)

The joiners' company took part in the peace celebrations of 1814, but in 1828 the few remaining members agreed to sell their hall and garden, and the company took no part in the celebrations of 1832. Its last official died in 1837. An attempt to revive the company around the personality of an old man named Rhoades, who possessed an indenture of apprenticeship dated 1774, apparently failed largely because he was not willing to co-operate. (fn. 35) Since about the middle of the 15th century the joiners' hall stood in St. Ann Street and the Jacobean façade of this survives. (fn. 36) When Hatcher described it in 1843 it still contained an assembly room 29 × 27 ft. panelled in richly carved oak wainscot, thought to be the work of the brothers Humphrey and John Beckham, both wardens of the company in the early 17th century. (fn. 37) In 1898 the hall was conveyed to the National Trust. (fn. 38)

Towards the end of the 18th century the place of the trade companies was being taken by the new social clubs and Friendly Societies. The Woolcombers Society and the Rainbow Club, a branch of the Friendly Society of the Cordwainers of England, to which the Salisbury shoemakers became affiliated in 1784, were among the first of these new societies to be formed in Salisbury. (fn. 39) The mer chants' company, which had been moribund since the early 18th century, was in 1786 replaced by the Salisbury Commercial Society, founded 'to protect and promote the general trading interests of the city' and to correspond with other towns on trade questions. All Salisbury tradesmen were invited to join.


  • 1. Haskins, Guilds, 318, 381.
  • 2. Hatcher, Salisbury, 343; Haskins, op. cit. 237.
  • 3. Haskins, Guilds, 371.
  • 4. Ibid. 376; Hatcher, Salisbury, 323, 341–2.
  • 5. Haskins, Guilds, 339, 341–2.
  • 6. Ibid. 244–5.
  • 7. Hatcher, Salisbury, 341. For Pudding Bridge, see p. 88.
  • 8. Hatcher, Salisbury, 342–3.
  • 9. Haskins, Guilds, 339, 319. For the Brewhouse, see p. 111.
  • 10. Haskins, Guilds, 225.
  • 11. Hatcher, Salisbury, 455; Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 154d.
  • 12. Hatcher, Salisbury, 475, 485; Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. ff. 218 and 279.
  • 13. Haskins, Guilds, 54.
  • 14. See Haskins, op. cit. 177–94, and 220–6, 339–41; G. J. Eltringham, 'Salisbury Companies and their Ordinances, with particular reference to the woodworking crafts', W.A.M. liv. 185–91.
  • 15. Hatcher, Salisbury, 354, 384, 423.
  • 16. Hist. MSS. Com. Var. Coll. iv. 242.
  • 17. Hatcher, Salisbury, 503.
  • 18. Haskins, Guilds, 194–5.
  • 19. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 149: Haskins, op. cit. 96.
  • 20. Haskins, Guilds, 96.
  • 21. See p. 133.
  • 22. Haskins, Guilds, 95–7; Brown's Salisbury Dir. 1912.
  • 23. Haskins, op. cit. 211–12.
  • 24. See p. 134.
  • 25. Haskins, Guilds, 183, 188, 381, 384.
  • 26. Ibid. 204. They had their feasts and assemblies there temp. Eliz. I: ibid. 175, 376.
  • 27. Haskins, op. cit. 216.
  • 28. Ibid. 216–17.
  • 29. Sar. Corp. MSS. 1/246/2. Noted on cover of Tailors' Guild Assembly Bk. 1575–98.
  • 30. Haskins, Guilds, 227.
  • 31. Ibid. 228–30.
  • 32. See p. 84.
  • 33. Haskins, Guilds, 231.
  • 34. Ibid. 228–33.
  • 35. Hatcher, Salisbury, 358–9.
  • 36. Haskins, Guilds, 356.
  • 37. Ibid.; Hatcher, Salisbury, 599. For another carving by Humphrey Beckham, see below, p. 151.
  • 38. W. A. Wheeler, Supplemental Sarum Chronology, 1881–1900, 84.
  • 39. Haskins, Guilds, 227, 397.