Archiver > LONDON-COMPANYS > 2000-08 > 0966835493

From: Peter Wilson <>
Subject: [London-Companys] Alderman Cordwainers
Date: Mon, 21 Aug 2000 05:24:53 +0000
In-Reply-To: <>


Cordwainers made shoes. The city of Cordoba in Spain was famous under
highly civilized Moslem rulers for its goatskin leather, called "Cordovan"
or "cordwan." Cordoba, conquered by Castillian Crusaders in 1492, continued
to export fine skins, steel and filigree even though its Jewish craftsmen
were expelled that year and its Moorish craftsmen were expelled in 1502.
Exiles fled to Morocco, Ottoman territories in Africa and Asia minor, Italy,
Amsterdam, the Canary Islands, and even Portugese Madeira.

An existing Cordwainers guild in London was mentioned in an ordinance in
1272. Both a street and a ward were named for them. Ordinances limited
their hours, selling places, and the number of journeymen per master
cordwainer. In 1303 journeymen complained about low wages and limited
employment opportunities. By 1387 journeymen were so vociferous that they
were forbidden by law to conspire against their employers, so journeymen
formed their own guild, but had no say in the Mystery proper. They fought
with other crafts as well. In 1267 Cordwainers joined in a street fight
between the Tailors and Goldsmiths (my source does not say on which side).
In 1445 London Cordwainers were required to provide 24 men for the Watch.

After 1348 the Black Death caused scarcity of labor, inflation in food
prices, and civil disturbances which culminated the Wat Tyler's revolt of
1381, a year before Wycliffe's team translated the Latin Bible into English.
In the aftermath of the Peasants' Revolt, rich trade guilds forced a
reactionary candidate for mayor on the City. Cordwainers rioted. Their
leader, John CONSTANTYN, was seized, tried on the spot, and beheaded in the
street. Cordwainers and other craft guilds petitioned Richard II for
redress of their hardships, but he turned his back on them.

In 1364 John de TRUMPETON, cordwainer, rented a "Tenement with cellars,
solars and outbuildings" to John PAYN. This may have been the guild's
official meeting place because after it's 1439 incorporation a deed dated
1440 mentions "Cordwayner's Hall, adjoining a dwelling ... belonging to
William PAYN". In 1577 the Cordwainers built "a faire new Hall," destroyed
by the 1666 fire with other company property. The Company was already over
L1388 in debt, but they sold the gold and silver plate saved from the fire
and completed a new Hall in 1670 for about L2213, which they were forced to
sell by 1680 to meet their debts. In 1788 they built another Hall on
Distaff Lane. The Hall which the built for L39,111 in 1909 was burned in
1941, during the bombing. In 1951 the Company repurchased their old Hall
site, but decided to move its offices to the Fleet Street property which was
once The Sign of the Falcon, formerly donated to the company by John Fisher
in 1547.

Quarrels with the Cobblers, who only repaired shoes, were endless because
there was a fine distinction between shoe repair and shoe renewal. In 1484
Ralph John, a cobbler, was sent to prison for "having for the maintenance of
his family made certain pairs of shoes". It was a loosing battle. By 1528,
when Cordwainers petitioned the city to reduce the number of master
shoemakers, the number of master cordwainers had fallen from 140 to 20.

Between 1548 and 1558 five acts were passed to control the leather trade and
after 1603 the Statute of Leather gave Cordwainers, by then merged with the
Cobblers, the sole "right to search" in the boot and shoe trade. In 1608
the Guild insisted that all shoe makers free of the Curriers and Embroiders
should register a "proof piece" or "master piece" at the Cordwainers Hall,
to ensure quality of apprentice work, and to prevent other craftsmen from
encroaching on the monopoly of master cordwainers.

In 1627 poorer master and journeymen cordwainers petitioned the King's
Council to examine company books and determine whether the controlling
elite, and that of related Companies, was exploiting their position at the
expense of the rank and file. About that time Richard MINGE, James SHAWE
and Richard PENDREY gave or bequeathed substantial funds to the Company. In
1973 the Company sold Richard Minge's land in Southwark, by then extremely

When forced to contribute to the colonization of Ireland in the 17th
century, Cordwainers initially invested L250 and a further L1200 by 1654.
>From these Irish estates they realized an annual return of L7. In 1679 they
sold out to the Goldsmiths for L150. The Company had fared no better under
the Commonwealth than under the Stewarts. They were forced to contribute
L800 to Cromwell's army alone.

Conflict with the Curriers arose when Cordwainers allowed their employees to
treat leather, because the quantity of imported leather was no longer
sufficient to meet their demand. By the 1730's the Curriers, desperately
trying to save their monopoly on the leather trade from uncontrolled
importers and domestic rivals, again quarreled with the Cordwainers. They
joined forces, however, to pass the Flaying Act of 1803, which strengthened
their hold on the leather trade, and in 1815 they petitioned jointly, but
unsuccessfully, for the retention of James I's Statute of Leather.

By 1825 London Cordwainers faced increasing competition from Northampton and
abroad. The London Company still had problems with its workforce and
resisted mechanization, like that at Marc Isambard Brunel's Battersea Boot
Factory the an invention of a Sussex shoemaker to reduce the cost of
threadwork. As the century progressed the Livery Company changed its focus
from business to entertainment and charities.

Charities of the Cordwainers began long before 1547, when John FISHER,
donated his house, "The Sign of the Falcon," for poor relief. Later Thomas
NICOLSON left a bequest for the poor and to build a "more apte and better
common howse". Towards the end of the 18th century Past Master John CAME
sent anonymous contributions of L100-L200 to the Company for widows of
clergymen. When he died in 1796, Came left L37,000 for the widows and for
the blind, dear and dumb.

In 1877 Cordwainers donated L250 for the foundation of the City and Guilds
of London Institute, which established the Leather Trades School. From 1913
Cordwainers managed what became the Cordwainers Technical College. In 1923
the Cordwainers College moved to St. John's Lane, Finsbury, but it also was
bombed in 1940, and moved to Mare Street, Hackney in 1946 and rebuilt there
in 1957. The City and Guilds of London Institute and the Cordwainers
Technical College are their principal benefactions.

The company also administers almshouses in Shorne, Kent, and Chesham,
Buckinghamshire. The latter site had been the property of the FRANCIS
family, London lawyers for three centuries who merged with the nobility.
Cordwainers also support the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and give grants to
theological colleges, the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, the
Institute of Dental Surgery, nurses, widows the blind, the deaf and the

Members who served their community as aldermen:
Term.....................................Alderman Cordwainer

1895-1903 ff....................F. P. ALLISTON

1667-1667.........................H. BEANE

1654-1654.........................R. HILL
1832-1832........................W.H. HUGHES
1843-1848........................W.H. HUGHES
Valerie Hope, Clive Birch & Gilbert Torry, "The Freedom: Past and Present of
the Livery, Guilds and city of London" 1982, printed by Barracuda Books,
Buckingham, pp 119-120.
Rev. Alfred Beaven in "The Aldermen of the City of London," Published by the
Corporation of the City of London (printed by Eden Fisher, London, 1908 &
1912), v.1, p 352.

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