The Haberdasher’s Company founded in the C14th
For as long as man has worn clothes, they have adorned their garments with haberdashery. They have worn hats and caps, added ribbons and buckles, brooches and pins. The Haberdashers Company has its roots in the 14th century, when two distinct branches of the trade of haberdashery existed. One dedicated to St Catherine, the other St Nicholas. One branch of the trade was carried on by the Haberdashers of hats, these sub-divided into the Hurriers or cappers and the Hatter merchants. The other branch of the trade was composed of the haberdashers of small wares, they were known Millianers or Milliners because the bulk of their goods were imported from Milan in Italy. The fine leathers produced in Italy, for example, made beautiful gloves and purses that were coveted by wealthy Londoners and imported aboard ships sailing out of the Mediterranean.
Haberdasher’s Company first charter
The first charter of the Haberdashers Company was granted by King Henry VI in 1448. This charter authorised and empowered the liegemen of the mystery of Haberdashers to erect and found a guild in honour of St Catherine. As time progressed the various branches were amalgamated and in the reign of King Henry VII a charter was produced in which it was declared they should be one craft by the name of the Merchant Haberdashers.
Stroll through the Medieval streets, what were the haberdashers selling?
So in Medieval times, what might you have seen for sale, whilst strolling down Cheapside in London? The stalls, set out on the sides of the thoroughfare would have been overflowing with goods of the Mercers, linen cloths, fustians, satins, jewels, wood, oil, wine, salt and much else besides. But scattered in amongst them were the stalls of the Haberdashers, filling the gaps, offering commodities the Mercers did not sell. Laces of coloured leather, brightly coloured tempting ribbons, caps of all hues and sizes and many other small articles of dress. Small pieces to brighten the day.
The company was at its height in the Tudor period. During the coronation of Anne Boleyn the City of London went wild, creating a series of magnificent pageants in the streets and upon the River Thames. The people of London were decked in their finery and the Haberdashers goods brightened and lifted everyone’s dress. Even the poor might find a small piece of ribbon to adorn their hair. The Lord Mayor of the time was a member of the Haberdashers Company and their barge, with its figurehead of St Catherine, would have been as majestic as any in the river pageant that day.
Queen Elizabeth I, perhaps not surprisingly, given her love of ornamentation on her dress, favoured the company by granting them a charter, establishing all their privileges and allowed them to have a hall within the City. By degrees the trade of haberdashery became interwoven with other trades such as drapers and hosiers and the business became less distinct. Step forward another century or so and by the Stuart period the range of goods had expanded hugely, gloves, daggers, swords, inkhorns, silver toothpicks and buttons. All a person needed to stand out from the crowd, to be able to say “Look! I am a person with money enough to waste on frivolity”. An essential item for haberdashers to sell were pins, pins made all the difference to tailoring but that is another thing altogether.
In 1666, great fire of London destroyed their hall and all their records, their long history was lost and new codes were drawn up in 1675, which are those by which they are now governed. The loss of their hall, built on a site bequeathed to them in 1478, meant in a new hall had to be erected. Sir Christopher Wren was employed and the new hall stood until 1840 when another fire destroyed all but the court- room and drawing room.
The hall was re-built in 1864 and filled with paintings and treasures, part of the wonderful collection of the The Haberdashers Company. The Company have always promoted education and established schools during the 17th century. Among the schools was a school and almhouses founded by Robert Aske in 1692. The school was for twenty poor boys, sons of the freemen of the Company and accommodation for twenty poor men. Robert Aske was a great benefactor of the Haberdashers and left money which allowed the school to enlarge, it took boys and girls. The school continues to this day and has been hugely successful.