The Worshipful Company of Pewterers is one of the older Livery Companies in the City of London. It is number 16 in the order of civic precedence among over a hundred companies. The earliest documented reference to it is in the records of the Corporation dated 1348 when the “goodfolk, makers of vessels of pewter” came before the Mayor and Aldermen asking for approval of the Articles which they had drawn up for the regulation of the trade. The inference is that the members of the craft had formed together into a guild some time before this for, fundamental to the medieval conception of social organization, it was the doctrine of collective rights and responsibilities, and no trade could rise above a rudimentary level without assuming some form of association. It is probable that the Fraternity was originally semi-religious and the connection with pewter was secondary and subsequent to its foundation. The Company’s own records are extant from 1451.
Edward IV granted the first Charter of the Company on 20th January 1474 (1473 in the calendar of the day). In addition to licensing the Freemen of the Mistery of Pewterers to found a Fraternity, it allowed the Guild to regulate the standard of workmanship, the training of craftsmen and the wages and prices to be set. This Charter granted the Guild the right of search throughout England to ensure the quality of pewter was maintained. In succeeding reigns the Company received further Charters and it is under the provisions of that granted by Queen Anne in 1702 that the Company acts today. The Charters are displayed in Pewterers' Hall.
The earliest record of Arms in use by the Company is dated 1451. These first arms include a representation of the Assumption, recalling the Company's origin as a Fraternity in honour of the Virgin Mary. The Pewterers, as other Livery Companies, found it politic to eliminate religious symbolism during the Reformation: in 1533 new Arms were therefore granted, followed, forty years
later, by the crest, supporters and mantling.
The history of the Company reflects that of the use of pewter. The first reference to 'the makers of vessels of pewter' is dated 1348 when they asked the Mayor and Corporation for approval of articles drawn up for trade governance. It was much later that Edward IV granted the first charter in 1473/4. This gave the Company the right to be self-governing, to hold goods and property in perpetuity and to govern the trade throughout the kingdom. This last is unlike the powers granted to the majority of other companies whose jurisdiction was limited to the City and its environs. Arms were granted to the Company at the same time.
Groups of tradesmen naturally congregate to discuss matters of mutual interest. Since in feudal times any gathering was considered suspect by the authorities, companies usually had a religious affiliation. Ours was to the Virgin Mary, and her symbol, a lilypot, appeared in our original arms. This was changed in 1533, during the Reformation, when the one in present use was granted.
The Company was concerned with trade matters, costs, prices, raw materials, quality of pewterware and training of apprentices, as well as relief to the poor within the trade, funeral expenses, general charity and civic duties. The Company continues to support the trade, charities and the City as well as meeting together in Pewterers' Hall.
The first Hall, completed in 1496, was destroyed in the Great Fire. The second Hall, on the same site in Lime Street, was demolished in 1932, although from the mid 19th century the premises were let to a firm of hatters. We do however still own the site. The present Hall was opened, on a new site, in 1961.
THE HIGH POINT:
For two centuries from 1474 pewter was unrivalled as a material for plates, dishes, drinking vessels and similar ware. From the 16th century the indispensable preliminary for a Freeman setting up as a Master Pewterer and opening his own shop was to record his 'touch' or trade mark on large pewter sheets retained by the Company in the Hall. The early touch plates were lost in the Great Fire; the five that survive today record the marks of Master Pewterers from then until the beginning of the 19th century when the Company no longer exercised the power to enforce this regulation. These plates provide a unique record of pewterers of the period, containing over 1,000 individual marks and are of great historical value. A new touch plate was introduced in March 2000.
The prosperity of the trade may be said to have reached its zenith in the late 17th century. Thereafter, partly because society's drinking habits changed following the introduction of tea to this country and partly because the industrial revolution introduced new techniques and the use of alternative materials, the trade steadily declined. By the late 18th century the number of those in the Company who actually followed the trade was small.