History of the Company
The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, more commonly known as the Goldsmiths' Company, is one of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London and received its first royal charter in 1327.
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The Library contains over 8,000 books relating to gold and silversmithing, jewellery, assaying and hallmarking, precious metals, and the City of London and its guilds. As well as publications looking at the history of jewellery and silver, the collection includes books on contemporary work and technical guides. The Goldsmiths’ Company’s own publications are available to buy from the Library.
Each month we feature a key book available in the Library.
This month we are highlighting The Silver Caesars: a Renaissance Mystery, edited by Julia Siemon (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017). The book is the product of a groundbreaking symposium held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art to examine the Aldobrandini Tazze, a set of twelve Renaissance silver-gilt tazze of mysterious origin, topped with statuettes of the Twelve Caesars. With contributions from experts in their fields, including Mary Beard, Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, Timothy Schroder and Ellenor Alcorn, this work casts new light on these extraordinary and intriguing masterpieces.
The Goldsmiths’ Company has a large collection of archives which comprise bound volumes of minutes; apprentice and freedom books; accounts; rentals; charity records; property books and maps; and collections of unbound paper records. The volumes of minutes begin in 1334 and the majority of the unbound paper records date from the 18th century.
The archives include information on the Goldsmiths’ Company’s internal administration; its Assay Office (and hallmarking in the UK); its numerous charities; its property holdings in the City of London, Acton, and Derry (formerly Londonderry) as part of the Ulster Plantation; the early beginnings of Goldsmiths’ College (formerly the New Cross Technical & Recreative Institute); and the setting up of the City & Guilds organisation.
A listing of the Goldsmiths’ Company’s archives is available under Goldsmiths’ Company on the AIM25 website.
The library staff can offer informed advice on the content of the archives: please use the contact form below.
The Goldsmiths’ Company has some of the earliest records of the City livery companies. Commencing in 1334, they are written in Norman French until 1444, when English takes over. The minute books continue up to the present day with just one missing volume – from 1579-1592. They are handwritten until 1943 when typewriters were introduced and today they are written on computers.
The Court minutes cover meetings of the Court of Assistants and the Court of Wardens and are the main narrative for the Company’s activities. All of them can be consulted by interested parties at the discretion of library staff with the exception of the minutes after the Second World War which require the permission of the Clerk.
As time moves on the records become fuller – for example, in the 14th and 15th centuries they are mostly annual records of payments in and out of the Company’s coffers summarised in a few pages per year; in the 16th and 17th centuries there are much fuller descriptive entries which include the minutes of meetings which run over many pages per year.
In the 18th century the entries begin to decrease in size and description and the (Standing) Committee minutes begin to take over financial and property dealings. By the latter half of the century and into the 19th century the meetings of the Court of Assistants, although recorded, are very brief - apart from charitable grants which are listed and the recipients noted. Occasionally there are longer and more detailed entries but they are the exception rather than the rule.
In the 20th century and today the minutes are precisely informative and, in the current style, denote what decisions were taken but with very little narrative of the process.
The indexing of the minutes is contemporary where they exist and although variable in quality and content are helpful to access the contents of the individual volumes. Research slips from the late T.F.Reddaway and from Gerald Taylor are housed in the Library and cover the period from the 14th century to the late 17th century. Library staff can search them for researchers.
Several publications will also give guidance through content and footnotes:
Former Clerk of the Company, Sir Walter Sherbourne Prideaux, extracted historical facts (‘gleanings’) from the minutes from 1327- 1815 and the concluding chapter, if somewhat brief, took the Company’s history to the 1890s (Memorials of the Goldsmiths' Company being gleanings from their records between the years 1335 and 1815. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode for the Goldsmiths’ Company, 2v. 1896)
Dr Lisa Jefferson has published a transcription of the early records in Norman French (1334-1444) with a modern English translation (Wardens' Accounts and Court Minute Books of the Goldsmiths' Mistery of London 1334-1446. Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer, 2003)
The Company’s early history, from 1327-1509 was the subject of a book by T.F. Reddaway and Lorna M. Walker (The early history of the Goldsmiths’ Company 1327-1509: the book of ordinances 1478-83. London, Edward Arnold & Co., 1975)
John Forbes, former Deputy Warden, wrote a history of the London Assay Office which used a large amount of material from the minutes (Hallmark: a history of the London Assay Office. London, Goldsmiths' Company in assoc. with Unicorn Press, 1999)
Peter Jenkins, former Clerk, wrote a history of the Company in the 20th century (Unravelling the mystery: the story of the Goldsmiths' Company in the 20th century. Lingfield, Third Millennium Publishing, 2v., 2000)
The first volume of apprenticeship records began in 1578 and the first volume of freedom records in 1692. There are twelve volumes of the former and eight of the latter. Prior to these dates apprenticeships and freedoms were recorded in the minutes with the minimum of information. Initially the apprentices were required to be able to read and write and the early entries were written by the apprentices themselves. As time progresses into the 17th century the entries begin to look exactly alike and it is likely that a clerk was writing them. They are still signed by the apprentice.
The information in the apprenticeship records contains: the apprentice’s name; the name of the father (or mother or guardian); the place of abode and trade; whether alive or deceased; the name of the master, his place of abode, and trade to be taught; the term of indentures (how many years); the date of the beginning of the term; and any premium or payment made to the master. For genealogical researchers this information may take their particular family back another generation. In later volumes, from the 1760s when streets in London were numbered, fuller addresses are included.
In the freedom records there is a statement of the person receiving his freedom on a particular day, with the name, address and the profession of the individual. Revenue stamps indicate that there was a stamp duty on city freedoms at this time. Later on there are fuller details of addresses and, when freedom is obtained by patrimony, the names and livery companies of witnesses.
An index of all of these apprenticeship and freedom records is available for all library visitors. Compiled by Company’s first librarian, Miss Lavinia Bell, ‘the black book’ is one of the most highly prized (and consulted) reference sources in the Library. There are also several volumes of indices to these books compiled in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Company’s financial records are contained in the Wardens’ Accounts and Court Minutes from 1334, excepting the period from 1579-1592. The earliest separate yearly account book of the Wardens is 1687 and the last of three volumes ended in 1712. Cash books began in 1689 and, supplemented by ledgers from 1729, continued to 1941. Three charity account books ran from 1681 to 1729.
The (Standing) committee, which was set up in 1712 to monitor and to approve expenditure, has its own books of record from 1712 until 1943. Other accounting records survive for some of the individual charities, the Company’s entertainments and the Company’s barge house, for example.
Payments in and out of the Company’s accounts are recorded in the minutes as well as a series of ledgers called cash books, ledgers and journals. There are also volumes which indicate the financial status of individual funds, for example the charities. There is usually an integral relationship between the decision of the Court to grant or expend money and the payment of that sum. Regular payments of sums of money to the cook, the plumber, the labourer, the stationer etc. supplement the narrative of the minutes and form a picture of the minutiae of the Company’s life.
Payments are usually tied into the narrative of the minutes and are authorised by being recorded in the minutes. Therefore the minutes are the first source for accessing these financial records. Trailing through the records for a particular payment without any minute reference is more time-consuming and is less likely to ensure a successful outcome. The date of the minute which records a payment would be the starting point for searching to find the financial record.
The Company received bequests from its members from the earliest times and it also purchased property as a corporate body during its long history. Besides the site of Goldsmiths’ Hall in Foster Lane in the City of London, the Company owned property around the Hall, to the north of the Hall where the Barbican is now situated, and to the north of Fleet Street. Some estates outside the City were also owned by the Goldsmiths’ Company – in (London)Derry in Northern Ireland from the early 17th century to 1728; the Acton estate in west London from the later 17th century until 2000; and the Hamsell estate near Groombridge, Sussex, from 1856 until 1937.
The early minutes and the two-volume register of deeds contain much information on the estates and property owned by the Goldsmiths’ Company in trust for the payment of certain bequests stipulated by members in their wills. The minute books and committee books contain much of the narrative of the Company’s property ownership. Other series include lease books and volumes of contracts for leases; assignments and alienations exist in the 17th century; a 1651 Committee of Survey; and estate maps of 1692 by John Ward. Three volumes of renters’ accounts from 1694-1729 are succeeded by annual Lady Day and Michaelmas rentals until 1851 when they, in turn, were subsumed by the general ledgers covering all accounting matters.
Philip Hardwick’s drawings of the present Hall, opened in 1835, were given by him to the Company and there is also much of his correspondence on estate matters, including Acton, in the collection of archive papers.
The Irish estate papers comprise, amongst leases and miscellaneous papers (1609-1927), the grant (1613) of land to the Irish Society by James I and an account of the Company’s lands in Ulster (1609-19) compiled by the Clerk, Henry Carter.
The Hamsell estate papers were transferred to the Guildhall Library after the Second World War.
Most property records relate to physical structures which have leases and agreements and are usually dated. Within the volumes of minutes it is necessary to search the individual indices, where they exist, by name (lessee/ occupant) and location (street). The archive papers are listed on AIM25 and can be consulted in the library.
The type of information to be found would relate to applications for the lease, purchase or sale of property; payment of half-yearly rents; disputes between lessees and tenants and other related matters.
For specific properties some may relate to bequests from members and may be found under the relevant charity in W.S.Prideaux’s The Charities under the management of the Goldsmiths’ Company…(London, Eyre and Spottiswoode. 1899).
The Company’s minutes from 1334 (excepting 1579-1592) contain most of the information regarding the administration of the Assay Office and, from c.1720-1943 the (Standing) committee minutes also have relevant information. From 1943 the Assay Office minutes are collected, with other committee minutes, in one volume, which, later, became an annual volume. Separate volumes commenced, from 1776 to 1890, to record the plate duty receipts.
Registers of marks survive from 1697, apart from 1739-1773. A copper plate of makers’ marks from 1682 survives together with metal mark plates recording both the assay office marks and the craftsmen’s marks from the later 18th century.
Information on individuals as goldsmiths and silversmiths as they sought to make their fortune in the craft are found in the minutes from the earliest period. As in life it is the offenders who seem to gain the most infamy or notoriety by the recording of their misdeeds - either as a lesson to others or as a corporate record of the punishment meted out to malefactors. Specific objects, such as trencher (plates) tankards etc., found in searches are usually mentioned by name in the 17th century but by the beginning of the 18th century they tend to be described generically as ‘silver items’.
One copper plate from 1682 and registers of makers’ marks from 1697 (except 1739-1773) allow researchers to identify most London craftsmen from 1682 to the present day through their registered marks. Metal mark plates recording the assay office marks survive from the 1770s.
The archive files cover a wide range of subjects within the field often with original or contemporary copies of petitions and letters re assay office staff (1629 to present); statistics (1815 to present); the Trial of the Pyx (1603 to present); parliamentary legislation (1661 to present); offences (1695 to present); other UK assay offices (1854 to present).
A large proportion of the minutes are indexed but searching requires an open-ended approach and varies with the type and date of the record. John Forbes’s history of the assay office is a good starting point.
The makers’ marks are recorded in the books on makers’ marks by Charles Jackson (pre 1697), and A.G.Grimwade and J.D.Culme who between them cover the period from 1697-1914 in London.
The archive papers are listed on the AIM25 website.
The Goldsmiths’ Company has been supporting excellence in design for precious metals since 1925, when it was asked by King George V to help update the trophies awarded at Ascot. The Company responded by organising a design competition, which became the first of many held over the next four decades. Most of the successful competition entries were kept by the Company, and they now form the backbone of our extensive collection of design drawings.
Alongside these, the archives also contain designs for objects commissioned by the Company for its own collection; designs for competitions run by other organisations; designs for institutional plate; portfolios of well-known craftsmen such as H.G. Murphy and Bernard Cuzner; and material from manufacturing or retail firms such as Tessier and E. Podolsky. There are two large collections of drawings and work books relating to Omar Ramsden and the Artificers’ Guild, which are kept separately and classified as special research collections.
The majority of the designs in the archive were produced during the early and mid-twentieth century, and are by British or UK-based craftsmen. Most are presentation drawings for competition, but there are also collections of working designs that were used at the bench. They are available to view by appointment in the Library. Alternatively the designs are part of an ongoing photography project, and many are now available as digital images.
A paper index is available to search in the Library. This gives an indication of the design brief, the object depicted, and the designer. Some of the designers featured in the archive are:
J.L. Auld, R.G. Baxendale, W.P. Belk, G. Benney, S. Bishop, E. Clements, E.M. Dinkel, L. Durbin, T.R. Glenn, M.E. Gould, R.H. Hill, C. Holliday, C.N. Lawrence, K.W. Lessons, R.A. Massey, K. Mosley, L. Osman, K. Redfern, C.J. Shiner, W.C. Smyth, A.G. Styles and G. Whiles.
The Sheffield-born silversmith, Omar Ramsden (1873-1939), came to London with his partner, Alwyn Carr (1872-1940), shortly after their graduation from Sheffield School of Art in 1897. Settled in west London, the partnership flourished until the First World War when Carr left to serve in the Artists’ Rifles.
At the end of the war the partnership broke up and Ramsden continued on his own. He was one of the most successful silversmiths of his generation, producing high quality silver which mixed arts and crafts idioms with a large dose of historicism – a style that his clients found reassuring following the upheaval of the Great War. But despite his Arts and Crafts credentials, Ramsden’s workshop was organised on traditional lines, with clear divisions of labour and the use of subcontractors where practicable. He learnt early in his career that his talents lay in designing and organising the work rather than making it himself, and he employed a number of highly skilled craftsmen. It was this business sense and his ability to develop such an appealing house style which led the workshop to be so remarkably productive: a large number of pieces still survive to carry the signature ‘OMAR RAMSDEN ME FECIT’.
The Library holds 19 of Ramsden’s workbooks, alongside five portfolios of working drawings and contemporary record photographs of his work. They cover the period 1921 to 1939. A key to the code used in the workbooks is also available. They were donated by the silversmith Leslie Durbin, who trained in Ramsden’s workshop, along with 34 of boxes containing small artefacts from the workshop.
Several finding aids are available in the Library, including indices of the drawings and photographs; an alphabetical list of clients mentioned in the workbooks; and detailed tables of contents for the workbooks themselves, giving the date, page number, order number and Ramsden’s identifying description of the object.
The Artificers’ Guild Ltd was founded in 1901 by the metalwork and enameller Nelson Dawson (1859-1942). It was one of the few guilds inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement to enjoy real commercial success, and remained in operation until 1938.
It was bought out in 1903 by the Birmingham entrepreneur Montague Fordham and established on a more commercial footing, producing domestic metalwork, church plate and furnishings, presentation plate and jewellery.
Fordham promoted Edward Spencer (1873-1938), previously Dawson’s principal designer, to be Director of the Guild’s workshop in Hammersmith. The Guild also had a showroom originally located just off Regent Street. Spencer died in 1938, shortly after the firm was wound up. During its existence, the Guild operated as a substantial business, employing over 40 staff at its peak, including a large number of skilled craftsmen, many of whom would have been trained in the Guild’s workshop. Although unacknowledged for much of the 20th century, the Guild is now recognised as an important producer of high quality metalwork and jewellery during this period.
The Library holds a collection of around 2,000 Artificers’ Guild design drawings, many of them signed by Spencer. They demonstrate his excellent draughtsmanship, as well as the Guild’s ability to respond to changes in fashionable taste. They range from finely rendered presentation pieces for clients to full-scale wash studies for stock pieces and working drawings with annotations giving indications of price and alterations. Although most of the work is his, the Guild did employ designers other than Spencer, and the collection also includes a significant number of designs by the architect and designer John Houghton Maurice Bonnor (1875-1917).
The collection was fully catalogued by Muriel Wilson and Anne Shannon during the late 1990s and early 2000s. A paper catalogue and card index is available to search in the Library. The designs are divided into portfolios by object type, and the catalogue provides details of the contents of the different portfolios, describing designs individually. The card index is also arranged by object type.
The late Lord Twining, (1899-1967), a colonial administrator who became Governor of Tangyanika, was, throughout his life, fascinated by the regalia of Western Europe and wrote two major books on the subject – A history of the crown jewels of Europe (1960) and European regalia (1967) both of which were published by B.T.Batsford. The former was 720 pages in length, containing 232 pages of plates with over 750 photographs. As he himself described it ‘Too heavy to hold, too dull to read and too expensive to buy’. His self-deprecation was misplaced in the sense that the book sold over 1,000 copies (at 16 guineas each) which covered the publishing costs of over £9,000 and left him with a profit.
The second part of the history – the regalia – necessitated journeys to Europe for further information and it was not until 1967 that European regalia was published. This was the year in which he died.
During his research he built up a collection of books, pamphlets and photographs on the subject of European regalia which was donated to the Goldsmiths’ Company possibly because of his close friendship with Alan Boyd, Lord Boyd of Merton, an Assistant on the Court of the Goldsmiths’ Company. The Library continues to add to this gift by acquiring new books published on the subject, keeping the Twining Collection up-to-date.
The collection is divided into:
Many of the more recently acquired books have been added to the Library’s main catalogue, but the other material must be searched manually.
In order to make our archives more accessible, the Library has commissioned two leading researchers in the fields of early modern luxury goods production and 18th century silver to produce databases of individuals listed in our records. The information found in these has been supplemented by details from other sources. The databases will provide an invaluable resource for researchers looking at the London silversmithing trade, London history or genealogy during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Compiled by Dr David Mitchell, this database was originally conceived as a tool to help identify the makers on the 1682 mark plate. It draws on information from the Company’s apprenticeship and freedom registers, records of searches, charitable gifts and loans. It also utilises tax and parish records as well as the few surviving goldsmiths’ ledgers. Users will be able to search approximately 12,500 individuals connected to the goldsmiths’ trade during the 17th century.
Selected information from this database can now be searched online through Records of London Livery Companies Online (ROLLCO) www.londonroll.org. A fuller version of the database can also be searched in the Library.
Compiled by John Culme, the primary intention of this database is to help identify the names of working goldsmiths and silversmiths which were lost with the two missing marks registers – the Smallworkers book c. 1739-c.1758 and the Largeworkers book c.1758-1773.
It combines sources from the Goldsmiths’ Company archives, such as the Broken Plate Book; the Assay Office Cash Books; the 1772 Parliamentary Report; the 1744 Warning Carriers’ Walk Book, the Apprentice Books, the Assay Office Court and Committee Books; the Court Books; the Committee Books; Rent Books and miscellaneous items (including later Shopkeepers’ Names and Places of Abode and Petitioners’ Books). Outside sources have also been consulted at the Guildhall Library, the London Metropolitan Archives, and the Family Records Centre, Islington.
The database is available to search in the Library.
The Library holds runs of over 40 titles, many starting in the late 1940s. These include craft magazines, British and European trade magazines and auction house sales catalogues. Other general titles on art and antiques are also received.
All books acquired after 1995 have been entered onto the Library’s catalogue, which also contains details of relevant journal articles. Books and articles are catalogued in detail, including keywords and abstracts, making themes or special subjects easy to find. Older publications are recorded by card index and there is a continuing project to add them to the catalogue.
The catalogue is not available online, so to find a particular book or research a specific subject, please contact the Library and we will search on your behalf. If you are looking for journal titles, our holdings are listed here.
The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, more commonly known as the Goldsmiths' Company, is one of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London and received its first royal charter in 1327.
The Company’s archives date back to the 14th century, and the Library's collections include over 8,000 books and over 15,000 images, magazines, journals, films and special research collections.
Housed on the first floor of Goldsmiths’ Hall, the Library was established in the 1950s as part of the Company’s mission to promote jewellery and silversmithing. Contact us or arrange a visit.