Feeling overlooked? Mercers’ Maidens in London
Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?
It’s not just that the UK has the highest density of surveillance devices (there’s around 1 CCTV camera per 14 people) but around London you may have also spotted this familiar face:
She’s the Mercers’ Maiden and you’ll find her all over London. But let’s get some basics sorted first…
Who are the Mercers?
From the Medieval period, London was organised into guilds, or livery companies, which were sort of the trade unions of their day. They ensured trading and product standards as well as set the price of items and one of the most powerful companies was the Mercers.
Mercery comes from the Latin word ‘merx’ for merchandise and in 13th & 14th Century London this meant luxurious fabrics like silks, velvets and linens. The Mercers’ Company can date it’s origins back to a document from 1304 describing a lawsuit and more concretely they have ordinances (written lists of rules of the company) dating from 1348.
Over their 700 year history the Mercers’ have had many notable members including Thomas More, William Caxton and Richard (Dick) Whittington.
Why the maiden?
The short answer is we don’t really know. Sadly there’s no written evidence of choosing her as the company’s emblem. She started appearing on official seals in 1425 and was only formally granted as a coat of arms in 1911.
As well as featuring on official correspondence and furnishings, the maiden symbol frequently appears on building owned by the Company and there’s around 100 of these dotted around London.
There’s a huge concentration of maidens in the City of London (their first HQ was on Cheapside), but also in Covent Garden where they owned land on Long Acre in 1530.
Today the Mercers’ Company is still one of 110 City of London Livery Companies and gives charitable grants, mainly supporting education.
Think you’ve spotted one before? There’s a handy map of all the maiden property marks in London here.
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