Nigel`s Notes on the history of the Shrewsbury Drapers’ Company and a few notes on other guilds

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The Shrewsbury Drapers Company was founded by royal charter in 1462, it combined the new drapers craft guild and the religious guild of St Mary`s. It was never a trading company, but an association of merchant wool and cloth traders, who traded on their own account. There is evidence some of the merchant families had been trading wool well before this date as their names can be seen on the Shrewsbury Guild Merchant rolls of 1204. They paid into the town coffers for the privilege and some of that was passed to the Crown. By granting a royal charter money was paid direct.

There are 80 elected freemen of the Guild, who are trustees of the consolidated charity which manages and supports almshouses in Shrewsbury. Meetings and feasts are held using some of the original seventeenth century furniture in the Shrewsbury Drapers Hall. The Freemen are much involved in charitable work, including managing the almshouses for fifty residents in Shropshire and running an open annual textile competition each autumn.

In 2015 the other three registered charities are Shrewsbury Drapers Company General Charities (no. 213372) and Hospital of St Giles (no. 233903) and Holy Cross (no.1132671) were combined into Shrewsbury Drapers Holy Cross Limited incorporating Shrewsbury Drapers Company Charity as a registered linked subsidiary Company Number 07000798 the charity Number is 1132671.

The Shrewsbury Drapers Hall, was built in 1576, and is now in the custody of Shrewsbury Drapers` Hall Preservation Trust, a charitable company limited by guarantee. Company Number 03676476, Charity Number 1073486. It has up to fifteen trustees the majority of whom are also members of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company.

Shrewsbury is a very special place and is proud of its surviving guild and Guild Hall. The Company has retained many unbroken links back to its foundations in the 15c and its zenith in the 16c. It is the only surviving ancient guild in Shrewsbury and as a town it is unique in having a surviving guild with an original hall in continuous use and ownership, although some cities have original guilds and halls.

The Drapers Hall, was rebuilt in 1576 on the site of an earlier hall, and is used today by the Company for business meetings and feasts. Visitors are able to have full use of many of the original features of the building and some of the original furniture. The Hall tenant, Rhubarb, operates a also popular bar, restaurant boutique hotel, the income from which is used to by the preservation trust to maintain the building.

The remaining evidence of links with the past can be seen all over Shrewsbury. In St Mary`s Church, the Leybourne Chapel has been used by the Company since 1444. The Old Market Hall in the Square was built in 1596 for the individual Drapers to conduct their business on the first floor.

Many of the great timber framed buildings in Shrewsbury were built by individual drapers in 15c and 16c and are open and available to visit. These buildings include Rowley’s Mansion; which previously housed the Visitor Information Centre, but is now waiting to be repurposed. Vaughan’s Mansion; incorporated into the site of the Shrewsbury Museum. Millington`s Hospital, Owen’s Mansion, Bennet’s Hall, Prowde’s Mansion and Ireland’s Mansion are all retail outlets and there are many other that can be visited by arrangement including Bowdler’s House and Perche’s Mansion

Since 1444 the Company has an unbroken link with the people of Shrewsbury by providing affordable housing historically known as almshouses The original almshouses were built in front of St Mary`s Church in 1444, by a draper Diggory Watur. These were replaced in the 1820s (across St Mary`s Street) and these in their turn were rebuilt in 1964 in Longden Coleham where today they house 16 residents.

In the 1960s the Company took over responsibility for the almshouses near St Giles Church and more recently the almshouses of The Abbey Church of The Holy Cross. These were transferred to The Shrewsbury Drapers Company in 2010. The new building Drapers` Place was opened in 2017 with another twenty five homes.

Other Shrewsbury Guilds with dates of formation and new or renewed charters.

Shrewsbury was a town with a small working population and whilst some guilds had sufficient members to stand alone others grouped together with similar or related trades, described as com-brethren. The surviving records are not complete but there is evidence for the existence or formation dates of Shrewsbury guilds as follows.

1387 – Shoemakers; Leather workers (Cordwainers) 1412 – Wine merchants (Vintners), 1423 – Fishmongers, 1425 -Mercers and Goldsmiths, 1448-9 – Weavers Fletchers, (Arrow makers) Coopers (Barrel makers) and Bowyers, 1450 – Carpenters and Tylers; 1460 – Tailors and Skinners + 1478+1563 +1627+ 1686, 1462 – Drapers, Millers, Bakers, Cooks, Butchers, Clothworkers Shearmen, (Cloth finishers)

1478 – Tanners; + 1639   Glover, Poynt-makers, pursers, Fellmongers, Leather sellers and parchment- makers – Saddlers and Painters, Glaziers, Curriers and Plumbers Smiths (including Armourers); Cutlers, Haberdashers, Tinmen, Builders and Brick makers 1480 – Mercers and Goldsmiths added the Grocers and Ironmongers

1480 – The Saddlers & Painters later added the Grocers &Ironmongers; 1566 – Shearmen

1621 – Smiths new charter

1686 – Wax and Tallow chandlers joined with the Barber Surgeons

1304??? -Barber-Surgeons (Chirurgeons), This is according to Pidgeon but no evidence as yet to support.

Guild Halls and meeting places

The Drapers Hall; is built on the on the east side of St Mary`s Church in the church yard. “Here the Company of Drapers meet, to elect officers, and do business, but hold their feasts at some of the public inns by direction of the master.” See above.

The Mercers Hall “was formerly in the Sextry, or King`s Head Shutt, probably the same room in which the Charity School was kept, before the alteration of, and new building up that passage. Latterly their Hall was in the house, now belonging to Mr Symonds, apothecary, in the High Street. This company, at present, have no Hall but transact their public business at some one of the Inns, at the choice of the wardens.”

The Taylors Hall “stood on College Hill or Murivance, near the corner turning to the walls, where Mr Loxdale`s house now stands. At present no Hall.”

The Weavers Hall “was on Wyle Cop, up a passage near the middle, on the right hand going down. It lately belonged to Mr Twiss and is now converted into two dwelling houses.”

The Cloth-Workers Hall is an ancient building of red stone, near the upper end of the High Street, when or who built is not known; the Company making but little use of it, have for several years past hired it. For many years it was engaged as a Theatre; but is now used as a Meeting House for Mr Wesley and his followers.”

Shearmen`s Hall was on Milk Street opposite St Julian’s Church which they used for worship

Source for the details of the Guild Halls T. Phillips, The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury, 1779

Not a Guild Hall but a workshop

The Fellmongers` in Frankwell was built around the same time as Drapers’ Hall, but is not a guild hall. Until 1971 it was used by Messrs T Birch Ltd of Birmingham, Fellmongers and Wool Merchants, they processed sheep skins to recover wool which was then sold. The process was polluting and environment legislation, quite rightly, stopped the out flow from the washing process into the River Severn. Various part of the building have been used for various processes in the wool trade and recently became associated as a place used by Fellmongers (Nigel Baker, Shrewsbury; An archaeological assessment of an English border town, Oxbow Books, 2010.


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