Where better to explore the history of the city than at its very heart? Guildhall Art Gallery, nestled between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England, is currently home (until 23 September) to Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker, a collection of artefacts from London’s Livery Companies, or guilds — an historic part of London’s identity. Dating from the Roman period, these 108 companies operated as trade associations, regulating and cultivating their industries.
From illuminated medieval manuscripts to ornate tobacco jars and clothing (Master Carpenter’s Crown, 1561, above), visitors are provided with a rare insight into the codes and traditions of the guilds. Detailed hall plans demonstrate how important London Livery-owned property is to the architectural landscape of the city today, while a snuff box adorned with a stuffed ram’s head reveals the idiosyncrasies of Livery Company rituals. Paintings, books and jewels provide snippets of history, explaining how trades and membership were regulated.
Alongside a watercolour depicting dinner in a Livery Hall stands the engraved ‘Loving Cup’, a vessel filled with wine and passed around members of the company to drink from, encapsulating the fraternity of like-minded individuals. This ethos of sharing survives, as the Livery Companies now function as charities, supporting apprenticeship programmes and schools.
From fishmongers to solicitors, engineers to barbers, guilds were, and are, crucial to the commercial life of the city. In this historic year for London, this is a perfect time to explore part of what made it what it is today.