All Hands on History events for Totally Thames 2023 have now been announced. You can view our events here, by selecting the Events page from the menu, or, make you way directly to the Totally Thames website, to find out more info, including dates, times and how to book tickets. It's a bumper year for Hands on History and Totally Thames festival, with our expansion into new venues, such as the Museum of London Docklands, and new events in our programme, including creative workshops and art exhibitions. Enjoy!
To 'Knives, Weapons and Warfare' at Cutlers' Hall tomorrow, then.
Over the next two days, over fifteen mudlarks will be exhibiting their private collections at the home of The Worshipful Company of Cutlers, Cutlers' Hall. Access to Cutlers' Hall is not always possible, so, if you're visiting this weekend, you're in for a treat.
The current Cutlers' Hall is the fifth home of the Company, first opened in 1888, built on land that was previously the site of The Royal Collage of Physicians, from 1674 to 1825. Once the Physicians had departed, the space became a foundry, until the Cutlers Company surveyor built the present, extremely handsome, hall.
Aside from the plentiful riches inside, including a sword said to have belonged to the son of King Edward III - Edward of Woodstock - better known as The Black Prince, the external facia of the Cutlers' Hall is an occasion in itself. From the Cutlers' Hall website...
"On the outside of the wall facing Warwick Lane will be seen a finely carved terracotta frieze by the Sheffield sculptor Benjamin Creswick (1853-1946). The frieze shows cutlers working at their craft. Creswick was a pupil of John Ruskin and had worked as a grinder in Sheffield. He exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy, but few examples of his work survive."
Be sure to take a tour of the Hall. There are artefacts on permanent display, including the Company’s ivory gavel of 1603 and the Company’s Alms Box, in the form of an elephant, dating from 1624. An impressive stained glass window, and painting of The Feast of the Boar's Head greet you as you enter the building, and throughout the house there are myriad treasures for you to spot, as you soak up the atmosphere of building, including the beautiful livery hall and court room.
If this is the fifth hall, what happened to the others? Although the current hall managed to escape the great fire bomb raid in 1940, another did succumb to that other 'great fire', The Great Fire of London in 1666. Interestingly, the Company still holds the Conveyance of that hall, which came to be their home in the 15th century. It was a building on what is now Cloak Lane, by Cannon Street Station, in which the following information can be found...
"The Conveyance of that Hall which describes the property as being ‘next to the tenement formerly belonging to the famous Richard Whityngton, sometime Mayor’."
To read more about the Company's history, including their former halls, please visit their website.
According to The Worshipful Company of Cutlers, the art and practice of the Cutler has been extant in Britain "from at least the 2nd or 3rd century AD."
The cutlers produced and traded all manner of instruments with a cutting edge, however, their abilities to produce weapons of war and conflict was second to none.
Warfare: a spiller of blood, a devourer of nations, the cause of great misery and great liberation, but also, in the context of cutlers, a charter former and a money spinner.
Since the dawn of time - time here, being the need to defend and attack - edged weapons have been an efficient way of carrying out business. Conflict and war was both a way of life and essential to grow populations, and, until the end of the 16th century, the demand for weapons was at consistent high. The cutlers craft and trade was an extremely profitable one.
During the early 15th century, the Cutlers felt themselves suitably important to petition the King for a Charter. At this time the company was called the 'Mystery of Cutlers'. King Henry V, of course, accepted their plea of Charter, and, following the Battle of Agincourt, granted the company its first Royal Charter. An interesting insight can be gleaned here, again supporting the notion of the unavoidable sway that cutlers held...
"This can be no coincidence, for the King had assembled his army in haste, and this was the only Livery Company to which he granted a Charter. One can speculate that the grant may have been made in part payment for arms supplied."
The offices created by this Royal Charter, such as 'Master', 'Wardens' and 'Court of Assistants' are still in use today, almost 600 years later. The Royal Charter also afforded the Company rights to own property, rather than using property held in trust, and confirmed the right, previously given to them by the Lord Mayor of London, to oversee the Cutlery trade in and around London. The Royal Charter that the Culers Company operates under today is that issued by King James I in 1606. The are number 18 in the order of precedence of City Companies, the same position they have held since 1515.
Of course, it's not all war, war, war (thankfully), and, as nations became more peaceable, the emphasis shifted from implements of war to cutlery and other domestic wares such as razors and scissors. The permanent collection at Cutlers' Hall displays a fantastic array of knives and cutlery, as well as objet d'art and decorative, ornamental pieces. I've included a number of images from our exhibition at Cutlers' Hall in 2021, so please take a look through.
We are extremely lucky this weekend to have the only working Blacksmith who is a member of the Company exhibiting with us. Paul Stoddart of Kingdom Forge will be in residence at Cutlers' Hall on Saturday and Sunday, exhibiting a number of the tools of his trade and talking to people about the art of blacksmithing. Kingdom Forge - blacksmiths, bladesmiths and engineers- are armourers to film, television and the Royal Opera House, as well as teachers of blacksmithing. Paul Stoddart set up Kingdom Forge in 2103 in the Suffolk countryside of Great Britain. You can check out their website here.
I'm handing the last word over to the Worshipful Company of Cutlers themselves, and hope to meet many of you this weekend at Cutlers' Hall.
"The cutler was not simply an artisan but a designer and assembler of parts who produced the finished article, which he then sold in the market place. The blades were made by the bladesmiths, and the scabbards or sheaths by the sheathers, whilst the skills of other trades such as the gilders and furbishers and grinders would be used to produce the finished article. Eventually, all these subsidiary crafts were absorbed into the Cutlers Company, and by the 16th century the Company controlled the entire trade."
Highlighted text taken from The Worshipful Company of Cutlers website.