The Company's History

It is impossible to be precise as to the origin of the 'mistery' or fellowship of Coopers but it is likely, as with other ancient guilds, that a grouping of such craftsmen with common interests was in existence in the 12th century, and probably before. The earliest mention of the Company is contained in the record of the Mayor's Court held on the 22nd May, 1298 (Ed. I) when, among other crimes, three named Coopers and others were committed to gaol 'for contempt of the King and Mayor, in that they made an ordinance that no one should sell a hoop, formerly sold at a half-penny and three-farthings, for less than a penny '! (They were later released upon payment of fines between six pence and five shillings.)

Early Governance

As far back as 1422, in the reign of Henry V, the fraternity of Coopers was governed by two Wardens and there is a record in 1420 of Coopers' marks being introduced by ordinance. It was at about this time that the various Companies came more under the influence and control of the Court of Aldermen and, to regain their independence and their right to self-government, many Companies, including the Coopers, sought and obtained Royal Charters. The fraternity of Coopers was no doubt encouraged in this matter by the bequest of one John Baker, a Warden at various times who died in 1490, which left his property in Basinghall Street to the Coopers' Company subject to his wife's life interest and provided that a Charter of Incorporation was obtained within ten years of her death.

On the 29th April, 1501 (Henry VII) the Company obtained its Charter of Incorporation which, inter alia, stipulated for 'one Master and two Keepers (or Wardens) of the Commonalty of Freemen of the Mistery of Coopers'. The first Master of the newly incorporated Company was Hew Crompe.

This Charter was confirmed unaltered by Mary and by Elizabeth I and remained in force until 1661 when the second or Governing Charter, under which the Company still acts, was granted by Charles II. This Charter provides for a Master, two Wardens and 17 Assistants and gives the Company the right to make bye-laws for its own internal organisation. The bye-laws were last approved in 1741 and remain in force today.

A third Charter, limiting the powers of the Court and the Company was imposed upon the Coopers in 1685 as a result of the City's conflicts at that time with the Stuarts but this was revoked upon the succession of William and Mary in 1688 and the 1661 Charter restored.

The granting of the 1501 Charter advanced the status of the Company and encouraged the need for a grant of arms and this was obtained on the 27th September, 1509. The present motto 'Love as Brethren' superseded the original 'Gaude Maria Virgo' after the Reformation. The Company's arms are described in the confirmation of arms granted in 1909 as 'Shield - gyronny of 8 gules and sable on a chevron between three annulets or, a royne between two broad axes azure, a chief vert thereon three lilies argent. Crest - on a wreath or and azure, a demi heathcock with body azure semee of annulets gold, the wings argent semee of annulets sable holding in the beak a lily argent slipped and leafed vert, two supporters on either side a camel gules semee of annulets and bridled or, the Motto - Love as Brethren.'

Powers

In addition to the powers vested by its Charter, the Coopers' Company imposed its authority over the trade by the medium of various Acts of Parliament. One such conferred the power to view and gauge all vessels used for the storage of ale, beer and soap, for which a fee of a farthing a vessel was charged, and the Company's 'Sealer' with its branding iron became a familiar, if unpopular, visitor to all cooperages. Other Acts sought to control foreign born traders and aliens and gave the Company powers of 'serche and reformacion' in London and its suburbs for two miles outside its walls.

With the expansion of seaborne trade in the 16th century and the growth of the Navy under Henry VIII, casks were in great demand. The coopering craft enjoyed great prosperity, supplying casks for everything that had to be stored on board ship - food, drink, ammunition and cargo and it is only in fairly modern times that 'cooper' ceased to be a rating in the Navy.

Waxing

The Coopers, as with their sister Companies, were at the height of their influence and power during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The population of the City of London increased rapidly during this time from about 75,000 in 1500 to some 450,000 in 1650. The increasing wealth of the Companies and of individual members led to an increased concern with benevolence and education and many an ancient Charity and School was founded during this time. The Coopers' Company's School (1536), and the Cloker Bequest (1573), mentioned elsewhere in this narrative, are examples of the Company's own concern in these areas.

Waning

The end of the commercial influence of the Livery Companies came with the growth of other industrial centres in the country, and of foreign imports, and with changes in general social conditions. Although Companies endeavoured to keep their hold on an expanding economy, by the end of the 18th century their original functions had largely ceased. The craft of coopering itself suffered a gradual decline as the effects of the Industrial Revolution were felt and by the beginning of the 20th century the majority of craftsmen were employed in the brewing and whisky Industries. A further and probably fatal decline was suffered following the introduction of metal casks into the brewing trade.

Welcome

Ian Luder

Our Master & Alderman - Ian Luder

The Worshipful Company of Coopers is one of the oldest in the City of London. In modern times it has evolved into the trustee of six principal charities and a social and charitable enterprise that retains an identity focused on the ancient craft of cask making.

We welcome members to enjoy a fellowship around our shared values and an interest in the history, culture and charitable endeavours that our company has pursued for the last 500 or so years.

Please look around our website to find out who we are, what we do and how you can be part of our Company.

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Family History

 

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