I often find myself in one or other of the various Livery Halls dotted around the City of London (Not as a guest but rather pursuing my own trade for which there is no company!). Last week I was doing a regular annual shoot for the Architects Benevolent Society who hold their event in a different Hall each year. This year it was the Skinners and it was one Hall I had not visited before.
For those who may not be familiar with the traditions of this land, the Livery Companies all go back a very long way, (in the case o the Skinners, they were awarded their charter by Edward the Third in 1327) and they are essentially trade associations that exist to protect and promote their particular trade. There are 108 of them (I have only visited a small handful) and many of them are rather wealthy institutions. Originally they had strong links to the church but nowadays these links are rather know tenuous but many still do a great deal of charitable work. The Skinners is a case in point. In fact the Skinners as a trade ceased to exist a couple of hundred years ago but the company is still doing very well and currently supports four schools in Kent and London, runs Sheltered Housing accommodations and make generous grants to other charities. And then of course they have their fine building, right next door to Cannon Street station and within spitting distance to the Thames river.
An interesting aside is that in 1484 the Skinners and Merchant Taylors had a argument about who whose barge go in front during the Mayor of London river procession. In the end the Mayor himself had to intervene and decreed that henceforth each company would take turns to be in front and when the fixed order was finally arranged they alternated between positions six and seven. This probably gave rise to the phrase “to be at sixes and sevens”
I had a few minutes to kill last week so I made use of my time by looking at things that interested me. (This is not meant to be a comprehensive study of the hall!) In particular I really liked the huge chest with it’s impressively ornate locking mechanism in the lid, which was accidently closed and it took all the skills of the locksmith to get it open again and only once he had been given a photograph of the workings! Otherwise they are all quite self-explanatory.