The Sneaky Symbol on Bank Station (Cannon Street Entrance)
While admiring the new Bank Station entrance on Cannon Street, I couldn’t help but spot a sneaky symbol that’s right underneath the London Underground roundels.
It’s the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors, one of the City of London’s livery companies.
Livery companies began as a way to regulate trade within the City of London during the Medieval period. The companies were integral to the structure of industries but they also administered the training, educating and welfare of their members.
Amazingly, there are still 111 livery companies today and while they are mostly charitable or educational institutions, some retain strong links with their trade. A good example is the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths who still host a Goldsmith’s Fair in their livery hall each year to celebrate contemporary makers.
History of the Merchant Taylors
Like many of the wealthy and powerful livery companies, the Merchant Taylor’s began life as simply an association of tailors, originally known as the Fraternity of St John the Baptist of Tailors and Linen-Armourers.
They received a Royal Charter in 1327 and have been based on Threadneedle Street since 1347 (possibly even earlier). It’s an extraordinary feat given the building has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice.
Today, outside 30 Threadneedle Street, you can see plenty of the company’s insignia. So what exactly is on their coat of arms?
Either side you can see two camels, these are known as ‘supporters’. The camels appear from the late 1500s, probably a nod to the company’s trade with with East but also perhaps a reminder of the early name and connection with John the Baptist (who famously wore a camel-skin coat).
They stand on the motto, Concordia parvae res crescunt which means In harmony, small things grow.
They frame a crest with a lion at the top (a nod to English Kings and their Royal Charter) and at the centre a luxurious looking tent. This is known as a ‘pavilion’ and framed by two cloaks known as ‘mantles’. These are quite common heraldic symbols but are also more direct references to the trade in fabric and tailoring. At the very top is a lamb surrounded by sun beams.
So why is their symbol on this Bank Station Entrance?
Throughout their long history the Merchant Taylors have acquired land in the City, mostly gifted in member’s wills.
In general, when a Livery Company own land. They make sure to pop their coat of arms on the building.
It’s hard to tell from maps how the Merchant Taylor’s came to own this exact plot of land. But Cannon Street (previously known as Candlewick Street) was a hub of Merchant Taylors from the 16th century. It’s also a very short walk from their Livery Hall.
A link that we can see on a map was one the company’s Grammar School on Suffolk Lane (circled below in yellow).
Often Livery Companies would support their members and extended family through philanthropic schools and almshouses. This school was founded in 1561 and the land was given by one of the co-founders (and a notable Merchant Taylor) Richard Hilles.
Though damaged in the Great Fire of London, the school was rebuilt in 1675 and lasted here until 1875. You can still find a plaque on the corner of Suffolk Lane and Laurence Pountney Hill.
They didn’t move too far in 1875, just to the edge of the City by Charterhouse Square.
Again, you can still find a plaque on the Queen Mary University Campus.
It’s amidst a lovely little green space that backs onto The Charterhouse.
Also on the entrance, look up to spot a (now, familiar!) stone coat of arms.
The school moved from Charterhouse Square to even more leafy Sandy Lodge, Hertfordshire in 1933.
So there you have it, even when there’s a new building in the City of London, look up and you start to peel back layers of history!
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