The Worshipful Company of Grocers
The Worshipful Company of Grocers rank second in the Livery Companies of the City of London. Originally known as the Guild of Pepperers, whose earliest records date from 1180, it was formed as a religious and social fraternity of merchants and moneyers who traded in spices, gold, and other luxury goods from Byzantium and the Mediterranean. Their use on occasion of pepper as a currency gave rise to the expression "peppercorn rent".
The merchants formed a community centred on a church which they built in Soper Lane - now Queen Street - and dedicated to St. Antonin. They became increasingly involved in the import and export of a variety of goods which they bought and sold 'in gross’, changing the name of the guild in 1376 to 'The Company of Grossers of London'. The small shopkeepers who retailed the goods bought from the wholesale 'grossers', adopted the name of grocers and the meaning with which we associate it today. Over the centuries, the Grocers' Company lost its close connections with the trade of goods, wholesale and retail, as well as its former function of controlling weights and measures at the Port of London which, since the Great Fire of 1666, has been in the hands of HM Customs and Excise.
Today, the Company, along with the other Livery Companies, continues to play its role in the daily life of the City, in the election of the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, and carries on the traditions of one of the ancient fraternities, which, since the middle ages, have formed sounding boards of informed responsible opinion.
The Grocers' Company has always given generously to charity, when its means allow. During the past three hundred years, its charitable endeavours, including those related to education and the church, have been a principal aspect of the Company's activities. While the Company's donations to charity are mainly funded by assigned investments and annual grants from the Company's corporate income, a significant portion relies on regular support from the membership in the form of donations and Gift Aid.
The Education and Charities Committee is the policy-making body for the Grocers' Charity, the grant-making arm of the
Grocers' Company. The Committee establishes broad targets, reviews all the charitable applications, and recommends to the Court of Assistants, who are also the Trustees of the Charity, what the response should be. It is responsible for the provision of grants, scholarships and bursaries to Oundle, and seven other schools with which it has historical connections, and for relations with the churches of which the Company is patron. With the recent increase in funds available to the Charity, the emphasis of giving has shifted with approximately one-third of charitable donations going to education and one-third to social welfare, and the balance being split between medicine, disability, the arts, heritage and the church.
The Company strives to live up to the ideals expressed in its early Ordinances, that it should be ‘a nursery of charities and a seminary of good citizens’. The Grocers’ Charity is the charitable arm of the Grocers’ Company. Although the Grocers’ Company has an historic tradition of dispensing monies to diverse charitable causes, it was not until 1968 that the Charity itself was formally established. It is administered by The Grocers’ Trust Company Limited, and the Directors of that company are the four members of the Court of Assistants of the Grocers’ Company who hold the offices of Master, Second Warden and the Chairmen of the Finance and the Education & Charities Committees.
The Charity has wide charitable aims. Each year the majority of its annual expenditure is committed in the field of Education, by way of internal scholarships and bursaries at schools and colleges with which the Grocers’ Company has historic links. The balance is spread across several areas of interest, namely the relief of poverty (including youth), disability, medicine, the arts, heritage, the Church, and the elderly, with emphasis usually given to the first two categories.
The site on which the fifth Grocers’ Hall now stands was acquired in 1427, and in the following year, when the original Hall was completed, the first Charter was granted.
In the Wars of the Roses, the City took the Yorkist side, and two Grocers, John Young and John Crosby, were knighted by Edward IV for services in the field.
The Company can claim a share in the work of the Reformation: Richard Grafton, a member, printed the Great Bible - the first English translation placed in Churches by the King's Order - and the two Prayer Books of Edward VI. The Company also played a part in the Restoration of Charles II by entertaining General Monck at a banquet at Grocers' Hall, and conferring upon him the Freedom of the City and the Company. Moreover, the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Alleyn, who welcomed the King on his return, was a member of the Company.
The Great Fire in 1666 nearly ruined the Company, destroying not only its Hall, but its property in the City. The generosity of some of its members, notably Sir John Moore and Sir John Cutler, permitted the renovation of the Hall. The Hall was then let as a residence for the Lord Mayor.
King Charles II honoured the Company by being enrolled as a member, and in 1689 William III conferred a more signal distinction upon it by accepting the office of Sovereign Master.
The second Hall was leased in 1694 to the newly-formed Bank of England, of which Sir John Houblon, a Grocer, was the first Governor. The bank remained as tenants for forty years, by which time the Company had recovered its prosperity.
For nearly a century, as confidence returned and its affairs improved, the history of the Company was generally uneventful. However, in supporting William Pitt in 1784 and by entertaining him at the Hall when the Freedom of the City and the Company were conferred upon him, the Company can claim to have contributed to Pitt’s success during the crisis in his career.
The second Hall was replaced by a third hall, completed in 1802, which in turn was superseded in 1887 when the Court of Assistants decided it would be economically advantageous for the site to be cleared and a new Hall to be built in its place. This was completed in 1893 and was one of the few Livery Halls to survive the Second World War, although it suffered minor damages to the North Wing, later restored in 1957.
The fourth Hall was almost completely destroyed by fire during the night of the 22nd of September, 1965. The fire was described as the largest in the City since the Blitz. Forensic experts from Scotland Yard traced the source to a cupboard under the grand staircase where it is possible that a light bulb was inadvertently left on just below an oak lintel which smouldered and eventually burst into flames. The Hall contained a great deal of panelling and the fire spread rapidly destroying most of the building and many irreplaceable items. As with the Great Fire of London, the muniments miraculously escaped and are now housed in the Guildhall on indefinite loan. They include the first Minute Book of the Company, commenced on the 9th May 1345. The greatest loss was the Company's Charters, which were on display on the first floor landing.
Information courtesy of www.grocershall.co.uk