Inside Saddlers’ Hall: The Top Five Intriguing Items
With its earliest records dating back to around the 1150s, the Saddlers’ Company flourished in the Middle Ages as one of the most respected artisan guilds.
During the 16th Century, the economic balance shifted to merchant companies (those that dealt with items brought over through trade) and the Saddlers’ Company was ranked 25th of the 42 existing companies.
Today they retain their original home on Gutter Lane but also their no. 25 spot on the list of Livery companies. However there are now 110 companies in the City of London including security professionals and tax advisors.
Below is their coat of arms and charming motto; Hold Fast, Sit Sure.
I joined the London Historians on a guided tour from Keith Marsh, the Beadle of the company, and here’s my top five best bits…
1. The Beadle Gown
The above ceremonial Beadle Gown in shown with the company colours. It’s not an original but apparently the tassels had been saved from an earlier gown. The tassels were important because the Beadle would wear this when he process through the streets in front of the Master and the tassels would be dipped in perfume to protect said master’s nostrils from the putrid smells of the London Streets. Nice.
While we’re on smells, don’t be fooled by the name of their address; Gutter Lane. It’s actually a derivative of ‘Gutherin’ a man who had a large property on the street.
2. The Prize Coconut
The Company have a large collection of silverware but the most bizarre was the above ornament; a carved coconut set in gold featuring religious imagery. It dates from 1560 and was brought over from the West Indies and presented to the Master at the time by the La Borne family.
The original was far too precious to be brought out, so unfortunately this is a photo of a photo…
3. The Disappearing Virgin
The below fabric was a ceremonial funeral pall, a piece of material laid over coffins of deceased Saddlers’ Company members.
What’s interesting about it is when you take a closer look at the Virgin Mary. The only reason this treasure survived the reformation is because some astute members picked off the face of Our Lady, thus saving it from the purge of Catholic materials.
4. Throwing the Gauntlet
You’ve probably heard of the phrase ‘throw down the gauntlet’ but you may be surprised to learn – as I was – that the gauntlet is actually a glove. This strange tradition involved the ‘King’s Champion’ (a chosen aristocrat) to ride down the nave of the church during a King’s (or Queen’s) coronation and would throw down the glove, asking whether anyone would dare retrieve the ‘gauntlet’ and therefore challenge the ascent of the King. Apparently the challenge never occurred and the last time this ceremony took place was in 1760 with the coronation of King George III.
5. Italian Trickery
The last item is a secret ballot box, dating from 1670. Previous elections for members of the company’s hierarchy were made in an open vote, meaning those more popular (or intimidating) won. This Italian-made device meant that each person’s vote was secret; they placed their hand in the hole and could drop a vote into one of the boxes undetected. Apparently the monarch at the time was less pleased as James I said that he wanted “no Italian trickery in his court”!
More details of Saddlers’ Hall, their events and guided tours can be found here: