Archiver > LONDON-COMPANYS > 2000-08 > 0967625368

From: Peter Wilson <>
Subject: [London-Companys] Alderman Curriers
Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2000 08:49:28 +0000
In-Reply-To: <>


Curriers derived their name from the Latin "Corium," referring to a layer in
skin between flesh and epidermis. As I understand the process, an
intervening layer of fat is removed in tanning, but later tallow is driven
into the leather to soften it, giving rise to the term "elbow grease."

To curry or dress tanned leather takes less space than a slaughterhouse and
smells less bad than a tannery, permitting Curriers to move frequently until
the early 1600's. They practiced their mystery near Curriers Armes Inn Yard
Goswell Street, Curriers Alley by Puddle Dock, and Curriers Alley in Shoe
Lane, and in many other locations.

The earliest document to mention the guild is an inquest from the 1270's.
A currier's wife got drunk, fell, broke a leg, and died. By 1299 authorities
regulated Curriers' prices.

Lacking a hall, Curriers first met about 1367 in the crypt of St. Mary of
the Carmelites in Fleet Street. The Priory crypt survived the 1666 fire
and exists today. Association with the Carmelites may suggest the
fraternity's religious tenor. One of the four great mendicant orders, at
their first general chapter (legislative meeting) after expulsion from the
Holy Land in England in 1247 the Carmelites affirmed a lifestyle of begging
friars, living close to the people. It was St. Teresa of Avila who led the
barefoot Carmelites back to their austere contemplative origins in 1562,
with the help of St. John of the Cross.

It was at the Carmelite priory two years after Wat Tyler's 1381 Peasants'
Revolt that John Northampton, former Mayor and "a very Calvin in restless
zeal and unbending thoroughness,"* and his followers were forced to submit
to Nicholas Brembre, the new Mayor, an opportunist who used his access to
the King to pursue personal vendettas and was impeached by Parliament and
hanged in 1388.

Mayors Hadley and Walworth had experimented in 1380 & 1381 by allowing the
council to be elected partly from the mysteries and partly from the wards.
When Northampton had been elected in 1382 "the mysteries regained their
political functions, but their exercise of them during the next two years
had a revolutionary character,"* and was not made permanent. Northampton's
faith in the probity of the guilds was not warranted, and it was left to the
discretion of the Mayor as to which guilds should be asked to represent the
city. Brembre's new constitution returned elections for the Common Council
back to the wards and, arguably, better secured the public interest. The
Curriers' declaration of poverty, when asked by Richard II in 1388 to
define their activities and list their assets, is belied by their numerous
charitable bequests.

Wycliffe's Oxford group, including Nicholas Hereford, translated the Bible
into vernacular English in 1382, but Lollards took their name from a Dutch
pejorative, "Lollaert" (mumbler), for illiterate peasants who combined pious
pretensions with heretical misunderstandings. Wycliffe denied the doctrine
of transubstantiation in the Eucharist, and stressed preaching in common
language, the primacy of Scripture as the source of Christian authority. He
denied that the papacy had scriptural justification, equated popes with the
Antichrist, and welcomed the 1378 Avignon schism as the death knell of the
papacy. Wycliffe died in 1384. A wave of repression of heresy began with
the accession of Henry IV in 1399, and Sir John Oldcastle's Lollard rising
in 1414 was quickly quashed, driving the movement underground among
tradesmen and artisans.

Early religious activities of the Curriers tended to nonconformism. John
CLEYDONE (Clayton) was one of the first Lollards to be arrested. He had
commissioned a copy of "Lanterne of Light," a pietist text, although he
could not read. Clayton was tried and burned at Smithfield in 1415. Three
weeks later the "good men of the mystery of Curriers" came humbly before the
Mayor seeking recognition, hoping perhaps to avoid being implicated in
"crimes of thought" which were to become equally intolerant orthodoxy under
Henry VIII.

During the 1400's subsidiary crafts in the leather trade were absorbed into
the Leathersellers guild. Only Curriers, because of their highly
specialized skills, maintained their independence. A 1484 statute forbade
Curriers from tanning and Tanners from dressing leather. By 1485 a
Curriers' Hall was built into London Wall. In 1493 internal ordinances of
the guild were approved by the council but it was not until 1503 that the
guild gained the right of search. In 1516 Thomas STERNE gave the Curriers a
property, "The Boar's Head," in St. Alphage Cripplegate parish. This
property became the site of their Hall in 1587. This hall burned in 1666
and was rebuilt in 1670. Curriers were granted Arms in 1583.

The quality of leather declined after the death of Henry VIII in 1546,
subjecting the leather trade to a series of crippling regulations.
Ignorant zealots on the council considered Curriers superfluous parasites.
An act "for the true currienge of Leather" complains that "through the
covertise of Tanners in overhastinge their works by divers subtill and
craftie meanes, by neglicence of the serchers and collusion of the corryars
... the Kinges subjects are not onely in their goods but also in the helthe
of their bodyes much endomaged by occacion of yll Shoes and Bootes made of
evell Lether."

Further statutes restricted the Curriers' rights to "make up" the price of
tanned leather, for the value added by currying. Without a possible profit,
curriers became unemployed and dressed leather scarce. The cost of shoes
soared. Curriers were briefly given the right to wholesale their work, but
were restricted by further legislation. Finally in 1559 the council
declared that "Leather was never woorse taned, curried or wrought than nowe
a days," repealed their prior sixteen regulations, and ordered that only
Curriers should curry leather.

Like their brethren in other guilds, Curriers paid numerous Crown imposts.
They contributed toward the fleet which defeated the Spanish in 1588. We
may assume they also contributed a substantial part of the L4000 which
Queen Elizabeth demanded to rescind the patent she had granted to Edward
Darcie to search and seal leather throughout the kingdom. Later Cordwainers
and Curriers agreed that Curriers would "have the dressing of all leather
bought in Leadenhall and Southwark markets and three miles compass of
London." The 1603 Statute of Leather closely defined the Curriers' rights
and obligations, and in 1605 the Curriers were incorporated. (Can someone
say exactly what this entailed?)

Under the James I Curriers initially "invested" L44 in Irish plantations,
through the Vintners. They made subsequent forced "contributions,"
including one for $150. In return they received a little over $172 over a
century later, in 1737.

Under later Stewarts the Curriers were financially pressed. Labor problems
multiplied. Members refused to pay their fines. William COLE even "swore
Four Oathes and Cursed and refused to pay his quaretridge." During the
Commonwealth, Curriers rented their Hall to dissenters. After the Great
Plague of 1665 we read "the journeymen of the company are altogether dead of
the late plague." The labor shortage drove employee wages up. After the
Great Fire of 1666 Curriers sold some salvaged plate, but after 1672 they
rented their new Hall to Edmund CALAMY, a preacher, Joseph TAYLOR, a
Baptist, and two Anabaptist preachers. The Company dined frugally in a
tavern, because the Hall was "encumbered with formes and pewes and the
Kitchen not in order." Pattenmakers then leased the Hall for L5 per year.
But by 1704 they were still deeply in debt.

18th century curriers were skilled and highly paid craftsmen, but could not
retail their products. Cordwainers, on the other hand, were
well-capitalized merchants, expanding their trade. When Cordwainers sued a
currier, Thomas CARPENTER, for retailing his Company defended him with funds
from a timely bequest, and forestalled more restrictive legislation.
Curriers went on, after raising loans, to obtain an Bill from Parliament in
their favor. Encouraged by this success, their journeymen struck for higher
pay in the 1790's and the Curriers sought help from outside curriers. The
journeymen submitted, after the Company obtained sufficient evidence to
prosecute them for conspiracy, but argued their case against scabs in a
pamphlet called "Articles of the Curriers' Tramp Society." In retaliation,
Curriers and Cordwainers together invoked the Flaying Acts, and recruited
hundreds of apprentices. In 1819 the Company built a larger Hall for L1000.

When the Statute of Leather was repealed in the 19th century, Curriers lost
control of their craftsmen, who formed unions. By 1827 the chief asset of
the Curriers, the new Hall which housed the Sun Tavern, was rented with
other buildings to Charles CALVERT, M.P., for L200 a year. By the 1830's
the Company ceased to control their trade, and craftsmen established their
own National Conference of Curriers.

The Company built a new Hall in 1872, but was offered another new Hall in
exchange for the old Boar's Head site, desired for commercial expansion.
The second Hall was built in 1876. In 1886 their factory burned, but the
Hall survived. Impoverished by the expense of maintaining a Hall, they were
given a respite by an 1892 bequest. In 1920 they were forced to sell their
hall, and rented space from the Cordwainers.

A few Curriers rose to public service:

Term.....................................Alderman Currier

1896-1897.........................R. C. HALSE

1779-1786.........................H. KITCHEN

1786-1802........................W. NEWMAN

1887-1888.........................J. E. SAUNDERS
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 122-123.
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.
*George Unwin, "The Gilds and Companies of London," pub. 1908 by Methuen &
Co. is still a good overview of many issues relating to the London guilds.
See pp. 147-154.


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