The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 2

Allen, Thomas
1828

Mercers.

Mercers.

Mercers' company

The ArmsConfirmed 1634. of the Company of Mercers, are gu. a demi-virgin couped below the shoulders, issuing from clouds, all proper, vested or. crowned with an eastern crown of the last, her hair dishevelled, and wreathed round the temples with roses of the second, all within an orle of clouds proper. Motto. Honor Deo. Patroness. The Virgin Mary.

The Mercers' Company existed by prescription long previous to its regular incorporation, which did not take place till the year 1393 (17th of Richard II.) when the members received their charter under the title of the wardens and commonalty of the mystery of the mercers of the city of London, and were empowered to purchase lands in mortmain to the value of twenty pounds annually. The company was affluent at that period, and its property has continued to accumulate to the present time, through the various grants, donations, trusts, &c. that have been progressively made to it, or otherwise committed to the guidance of its members. This increase, however, has not taken place without some intervention, particularly during a considerable part of the last century, when the company's affairs were much involved, through the members having engaged about the end of the year 1698, in a scheme of granting annuities, for the benefit of widows, which had been at first suggested by the rev. William Asheton, D. D. rector of Beckenham in Kent. For every 100l. subscribed, the annuitants were to receive 30l. during life; yet that sum having been found too large, it was lowered at different times to 25l. 20l. and 15l. per annum, but the payments were still so numerous, that the company was at last obliged to make a complete stop in November, 1745; its bond and other debts, then amounting to about 87,000l. besides the annual charge of 510l. 1s. on account of legacies for charitable purposes. Parliamentary aid was afterwards obtained for the relief of the annuitants, and the rents and profits of the company's estates having much increased, a new act was passed in 1764, empowering the company to consolidate their debts (which made together 146,687l. 5s. 3d.) into one sum, subject to 31. per cent. interest per annum; to issue new bonds of 100l. or under; and to draw a lottery in their own hall, for the progressive payment of the said bonds, whenever there was a surplus of 1,000l. or upwards. Since that period, the company's affairs have become so flourishing, partly through the great increase in the value of estates, and partly in consequence of the deaths of all the annuitants, that for many years they have gone on drawing their lottery about a week before Christmas--and since the year 1796, have annually paid off bonds amounting to the sum of 7,000l. or more.Mal. Lond. Red. vol. iv. p. 543. The present clear income of the company is stated to exceed 8,000l. annually; and independent of this sum, it is said to distribute upwards of 3,000l. every year, for purposes of benevolence and charity.

The mercers are recorded to have been seated near the spot where their present hall and chapel stand, in Cheapside, as early as the period of the first introduction of their trade into this kingdom, and their congregated dwellings were, in former ages, distinguished by the general appellation of The Mercery. About the centre of this cluster stood the house of Gilbert Becket, a citizen of London, and most probably a mercer, who was father to the celebrated Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, and whose wife Matilda, the mother of Thomas, was, according to traditionary lore, a fair Saracen, the daughter of a Pagan prince, to whose custody Gilbert had been assigned, after having been made prisoner when travelling in the Holy Land. The legend states, that after a confinement of a year and a half, he effected an escape by the assistance of Matilda, who had fallen in love with him, and been converted to Christianity by his persuasions. She next, urged on by unconquerable affection, deserted her friends, and followed him home to England, where finding him in London, she was married to him, and had issue Thomas, the archbishop, (afterwards called Thomas of Acons, or Acres, the ancient Ptolemais, from the presumed birth-place of his mother,) and a daughter named Agnes. The latter was married to Thomas Fitz-Theobald de Heili, or Helles, who, within a few years after the assassination of Becket, founded, in conjunction with his wife, a chapel and hospital, upon the very spot where the dwelling of Becket's father had stood, and where the archbishop himself was born.

In the times of Catholic superstition, it was customary for the new lord mayor, on the afternoon of the day when sworn in at the Exchequer, to meet the aldermen, and go from this hospital in solemn procession to St. Paul's Cathedral, whence, having prayed for the soul of the Norman bishop, William, they proceeded to the grave and chapel of Becket's parents in the church-yard, and there prayed for all faithful souls departed ; after which they returned to the hospital of St. Thomas of Acons, where the mayor and aldermen each offered one penny.

On the suppression of the hospital, in the 13th of Henry VIII. its annual expenditure was stated at 277l. 3s. 4d. About three years afterwards, it was granted, under the appellation of the College of Acon, to the Mercers' company, together with sundry premises in the neighbourhood, and was again set open, says Stow, (who also states, that the mercers purchased it through the means of sir Richard Gresham) the eve of St. Michael, 1541. It is now called the Mercers' chappel, and therein is kept a free grammar school as of olde time had been accustomed, and had been commanded by parliament: there is also a preaching in the Italian tongue, to the Italians and others, on the Sundaies. It was in the Mercers' chapel that Marc Antonio de Dominis, archbishop of Spalatro, who came to England in the reign of James I. preached his first sermon in 1617, in Italian, before the archbishop of Canterbury, and a splendid audience, after his conversion to the Protestant religion; and he also continued his discourses in the same place. The king gave him the deanery of Windsor, the mastership of Savoy, and the rich living of West Ildesley in Berkshire; but he afterwards returned to Italy, where, notwithstanding his relapse to the church of Rome, he was imprisoned by the inquisition, and died in confinement in 1625, in the 64th year of his age. Granger says, we are indebted to him for father Paul's excellent History of the Council of Trent, the manuscript of which he procured for archbishop Abbott; and that he was the first that accounted for the phaenomena of the rainbow, in his book de Radiis Visus et Lucis.

In the hall, not only the ordinary business of the company is transacted, but the meetings also of the Gresham committee are regularly held. This committee, to whom the important trusts attendant on the magnificent bounties of sir Thomas Gresham are delegated, consists of four aldermen (of whom the lord mayor for the time being is constantly one) and eight other members of the corporation of London, with whom, for this purpose, are associated a select number of the court of assistants of the mercers' company.

In the long list of members whose names have been enrolled in this fraternity, are included various sovereigns and other princes, a great number of nobility and gentry, and upwards of eighty lord mayors. In regard to the latter, it was formerly the custom, whenever any member of this company was elected to the civic chair, says Stow, that a most beautiful virgin is carried through the streets in a chariot in all the majesty and glory possible, with her hair all dishevelled about her shoulders; to represent the maidenhead which the company give for their arms. And this lady is plentifully gratified for her pains, besides the gift of all the rich attire she wears.

Such a pageant formed part of the procession in the year 1701, when sir William Gore came into the important office of lord mayor, and is said to have been of remote origin; but whether displayed in allusion to the Blessed Virgin, the chosen patroness of the company, or to the maiden's head, which constitutes the company's arms, is not exactly known.

Among many eminent men that have been masters of this company, occur sir Richard Whittington, mayor in 1397, 1406, and 1419; he founded the college that bears his name. Sir Godfrey Boleyn, ancestor of queen Anne Boleyn, the mother of queen Elizabeth. Sir Henry Colet, the father of Dr. Colet, dean of St. Paul's, and founder of St. Paul's school. Sir John Allen, one of the privy council, and mayor in 1525 and 1535; and sir Richard Gresham, the father of the founder of the Royal Exchange and Gresham college.

This company consists of a principal,The list of the masters of this company is printed at length in Strype's Stow, vol. ii. ed. 1720, p. 175. and three other wardens, a court of assistants, and a livery, altogether forming a body of about 110 members; yet it is a singular fact, that there is not a single person of the profession which gives name to the company, at present belonging to it. Besides having the general management of St. Paul's school, this company supports another seminary, called the mercers' school, which originated in the petition to parliament of four benevolent clergymen, in the 25th of Henry the Sixth, one of whom, John Neel, or Neil, was master of the hospital of St. Thomas of Acres, and the same who petitioned for the incorporation of the brethren, as mentioned above.See p. 159, vol. i. This was the grammar school noticed by Stow, it having been continued by the mercers' company after purchase of the suppressed hospital. For many years it was kept in the Old Jewry, but it has recently been removed to College-hill, Upper Thames-street. Twenty-five boys are here instructed in grammatical learning, &c. and the master is allowed a dwelling, in addition to his annual salary. Among the learned men who have been masters of this school, was Mr. William Baxter, a native of Shropshire, nephew to the famous Richard Baxter, and author of the Dictionary of British Antiquities, published under the title of Glossarium Antiquitatum Britannicarum. He resigned but a short time previous to his death, which occurred in May, 1723. Two other schools, several alms-houses, and various lectures, &c. in different parts of England, are also supported by this company.

Respecting the state of this and several other companies a curious record has been kindly communicated by J. Caley, esq. F. R. S. F. S. A., &c. It is a list of the freemen of the various companies resident in London and Westminster; from Thomas Lewyn being mentioned as sheriff, it appears it was made in the year 1537. The original is in the Chapter House, Westminster.

Touchinge the Pliament. The Companeys of all the Craftes or Mysteries of London. The seuerall companyes of all the mysteryes, craftes, and occupaciones witin the citie of London, wt the names of eury free man beyng householder wtin the same (first). Mercers. George MedleyRichard Wilson Thomas BurnellJohn Colett Robert PalmerEdward Grene Edmond KempGeorge Elyott Willm. LockeJohn Gowdge Willm. GresshamWillm. Serles Willm. FferneleyWillm. Broke John PorterRogier Starky Willm. ColsellWillm. Castelyn Robert CherseyRowland Shakerley Richard JervisJohn Boys Water MarsheJohn Harte Robert CodnamVyncent Randall Rowland HyllWillm. Lamberd Humfrey PakyngtonJohn Maynard John FfaireJohn Aleyn Edward BurlacyeRogier Chaloner John GarwayRobert Merydeth Bartholome BaronWillm. Harding Thomas FfullerThomas Legh John Coke, the elderWillm. Rede Andrewe FfullerWillm. Mounslowe Willm. Coke, the yongerCristofer Meryng George RobynsonCristofer Aleyn Edward WatersRichard Etton John CurtesJohn Skynner Willm. WodleffeJohn Browne

 

The of the , are a demi-virgin couped below the shoulders, issuing from clouds, all , vested crowned with an eastern crown of the last, her hair dishevelled, and wreathed round the temples with roses of the , all within an orle of clouds The Virgin Mary.

The Mercers' Company existed by prescription long previous to its regular incorporation, which did not take place till the year ( of Richard II.) when the members received their charter under the title of

the wardens and commonalty of the mystery of the mercers of the city of London,

and were empowered to purchase lands in mortmain to the value of annually. The company was affluent at that period, and its property has continued to accumulate to the present time, through the various grants, donations, trusts, &c. that have been progressively made to it, or otherwise committed to the guidance of its members. This increase, however, has not taken place without some intervention, particularly during a considerable part of the last century, when the company's affairs were much involved, through the members having engaged about the end of the year , in a scheme

340

of granting annuities, for the benefit of widows, which had been at suggested by the rev. William Asheton, D. D. rector of Beckenham in Kent. For every subscribed, the annuitants were to receive during life; yet that sum having been found too large, it was lowered at different times to and per annum, but the payments were still so numerous, that the company was at last obliged to make a complete stop in ; its bond and other debts, then amounting to about besides the annual charge of on account of legacies for charitable purposes. Parliamentary aid was afterwards obtained for the relief of the annuitants, and the rents and profits of the company's estates having much increased, a new act was passed in , empowering the company to consolidate their debts (which made together ) into sum, subject to . per cent. interest per annum; to issue new bonds of or under; and to draw a lottery in their own hall, for the progressive payment of the said bonds, whenever there was a surplus of or upwards. Since that period, the company's affairs have become so flourishing, partly through the great increase in the value of estates, and partly in consequence of the deaths of all the annuitants, that for many years they have gone on drawing their lottery about a week before Christmas--and since the year , have annually paid off bonds amounting to the sum of or more. The present clear income of the company is stated to exceed annually; and independent of this sum, it is said to distribute upwards of every year, for purposes of benevolence and charity.

The mercers are recorded to have been seated near the spot where their present hall and chapel stand, in , as early as the period of the introduction of their trade into this kingdom, and their congregated dwellings were, in former ages, distinguished by the general appellation of The Mercery. About the centre of this cluster stood the house of Gilbert Becket, a citizen of London, and most probably a mercer, who was father to the celebrated Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, and whose wife Matilda, the mother of Thomas, was, according to traditionary lore, a fair Saracen, the daughter of a Pagan prince, to whose custody Gilbert had been assigned, after having been made prisoner when travelling in the Holy Land. The legend states, that after a confinement of a year and a half, he effected an escape by the assistance of Matilda, who had fallen in love with him, and been converted to Christianity by his persuasions. She next, urged on by unconquerable affection, deserted her friends, and followed him home to England, where finding him in London, she was married to him, and had issue Thomas, the archbishop, (afterwards called Thomas of Acons, or Acres, the ancient Ptolemais, from the presumed birth-place of his

341

mother,) and a daughter named Agnes. The latter was married to Thomas Fitz-Theobald de Heili, or Helles, who, within a few years after the assassination of Becket, founded, in conjunction with his wife, a chapel and hospital, upon the very spot where the dwelling of Becket's father had stood, and where the archbishop himself was born.

In the times of Catholic superstition, it was customary for the new lord mayor, on the afternoon of the day when sworn in at , to meet the aldermen, and go from this hospital in solemn procession to , whence, having prayed for the soul of the Norman bishop, William, they proceeded to the grave and chapel of Becket's parents in the church-yard, and there prayed for

all faithful souls departed ;

after which they returned to the hospital of St. Thomas of Acons, where the mayor and aldermen each offered

one

penny.

On the suppression of the hospital, in the of Henry VIII. its annual expenditure was stated at About years afterwards, it was granted, under the appellation of the

College of Acon,

to the Mercers' company, together with sundry premises in the neighbourhood, and was again

set open,

says Stow, (who also states, that the mercers purchased it through the means of sir Richard Gresham)

the eve of St. Michael,

1541

. It is now called the Mercers' chappel, and therein is kept a free grammar school as of olde time had been accustomed, and had been commanded by parliament: there is also a preaching in the Italian tongue, to the Italians and others, on the Sundaies.

In the hall, not only the ordinary business of the company is transacted, but the meetings also of the Gresham committee are regularly held. This committee, to whom the important trusts attendant on the magnificent bounties of sir Thomas Gresham are delegated, consists of aldermen (of whom the lord mayor for the time being is constantly ) and other members of the corporation of London, with whom, for this purpose, are associated a select number of the court of assistants of the mercers' company.

In the long list of members whose names have been enrolled in this fraternity, are included various sovereigns and other princes, a great number of nobility and gentry, and upwards of lord

342

mayors. In regard to the latter, it was formerly the custom, whenever any member of this company was elected to the civic chair, says Stow, that

a most beautiful virgin is carried through the streets in a chariot in all the majesty and glory possible, with her hair all dishevelled about her shoulders; to represent the maidenhead which the company give for their arms. And this lady is plentifully gratified for her pains, besides the gift of all the rich attire she wears.

Such a pageant formed part of the procession in the year , when sir William Gore came into the important office of lord mayor, and is said to have been of remote origin; but whether displayed in allusion to the

Blessed Virgin,

the chosen patroness of the company, or to the

maiden's head,

which constitutes the company's arms, is not exactly known.

Among many eminent men that have been masters of this company, occur sir Richard Whittington, mayor in , , and ; he founded the college that bears his name. Sir Godfrey Boleyn, ancestor of queen Anne Boleyn, the mother of queen Elizabeth. Sir Henry Colet, the father of Dr. Colet, dean of , and founder of school. Sir John Allen, of the privy council, and mayor in and ; and sir Richard Gresham, the father of the founder of the and Gresham college.

This company consists of a principal, and other wardens, a court of assistants, and a livery, altogether forming a body of about members; yet it is a singular fact, that there is not a single person of the profession which gives name to the company, at present belonging to it. Besides having the general management of school, this company supports another seminary, called the mercers' school, which originated in the petition to parliament of benevolent clergymen, in the of Henry the , of whom, John Neel, or Neil, was master of the hospital of St. Thomas of Acres, and the same who petitioned for the incorporation of the brethren, as mentioned above. This was the grammar school noticed by Stow, it having been continued by the mercers' company after purchase of the suppressed hospital. For many years it was kept in the , but it has recently been removed to , . boys are here instructed in grammatical learning, &c. and the master is allowed a dwelling, in addition to his annual salary. Among the learned men who have been masters of this school, was Mr. William Baxter, a native of Shropshire, nephew to the famous Richard Baxter, and author of the Dictionary of British Antiquities, published under the title of He resigned but a short time previous to his death, which

343

occurred in . other schools, several alms-houses, and various lectures, &c. in different parts of England, are also supported by this company.

Respecting the state of this and several other companies a curious record has been kindly communicated by J. Caley, esq. F. R. S. F. S. A., &c. It is a list of the freemen of the various companies resident in London and ; from Thomas Lewyn being mentioned as sheriff, it appears it was made in the year . The original is in the Chapter House, .

344

 
 
 
Footnotes:

[] Confirmed 1634.

[] Mal. Lond. Red. vol. iv. p. 543.

[] It was in the Mercers' chapel that Marc Antonio de Dominis, archbishop of Spalatro, who came to England in the reign of James I. preached his first sermon in 1617, in Italian, before the archbishop of Canterbury, and a splendid audience, after his conversion to the Protestant religion; and he also continued his discourses in the same place. The king gave him the deanery of Windsor, the mastership of Savoy, and the rich living of West Ildesley in Berkshire; but he afterwards returned to Italy, where, notwithstanding his relapse to the church of Rome, he was imprisoned by the inquisition, and died in confinement in 1625, in the 64th year of his age. Granger says, we are indebted to him for father Paul's excellent History of the Council of Trent, the manuscript of which he procured for archbishop Abbott; and that he was the first that accounted for the phaenomena of the rainbow, in his book de Radiis Visus et Lucis.

[] The list of the masters of this company is printed at length in Strype's Stow, vol. ii. ed. 1720, p. 175.

[] See p. 159, vol. i.

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 Title Page
 Dedication
 CHAPTER I: History of London, from the Accession of William and Mary, to the reign of George the Second
 CHAPTER II: History of London during the reign of George the Second
 CHAPTER III: History of London from the Accession of George the Third, to the year 1780
 CHAPTER IV: History of London continued to the Union
 CHAPTER V: History of London from the Union to the Jubilee, 1809
 CHAPTER VI: History of London from the Jubilee to the Peace of 1814
 CHAPTER VII: History of London continued to the accession of George the Fourth
 CHAPTER VIII: Account of the Civil Government of the City by Portreves, Bailiffs, and Mayors, with a list of the latter...
 CHAPTER IX: An account of the Aldermen and Sheriffs, with a list of the latter
collapseCHAPTER X: Lists and brief Accounts of the various Officers and Courts within the City
collapseCHAPTER XI: Some account of the Ecclesiastical Government of the city of London, with a List and Biographical Notices of the Bishops of the see
collapseCHAPTER XII: Some Account of the Military Government of London, and the Artillery Company
collapseCHAPTER XIII: An Account of the twelve principal Companies of the City of London
collapseCHAPTER XIV: An Account of the Companies of the City of London, alphabetically arranged
 CHAPTER XV: An Account of the River Thames
collapseCHAPTER XVI: Historical and topographical account of London Bridge, Westminster Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, Southwark Bridge, and the Thames Tunnel
collapseCHAPTER XVII: Topographical and Historical Account of the Tower of London
This object is in collection:
Edwin C. Bolles papers
Subjects
London (England)--History
Antiquities
Permanent URL
http://hdl.handle.net/10427/44305
ID: tufts:UA069.005.DO.00067
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