The Worshipful Company of Drapers is one of the 110 livery companies of the City of London and one of the historic Great Twelve Livery Companies. The Company is based at Drapers’ Hall located off Throgmorton Street, near London Wall.
An informal association of drapers undoubtedly existed as early as 1180. The organisation was formally founded in 1361 and received a Royal Charter three years later. It was incorporated as a company under a Royal Charter in 1438 and was the first corporate body to be granted a coat of arms. The charter gave the company perpetual succession and a common seal. Over the centuries the original privileges granted by Royal Charter have been confirmed and amended by successive monarchs. The acting charter of today is that granted by James I in 1607, amended by four supplemental charters, most recently in 2008.
The brotherhood of drapers, a religious fraternity attached to the church of St Mary Bethlehem in Bishopsgate, was founded in honour of the Virgin Mary by ‘good people Drapers of Cornhill and other good men and women’ for the amendment of their lives. The location of this church can hardly have been convenient for the majority of drapers who lived in and around Cornhill, Candlewick Street (now Cannon Street) and Chepe (Cheapside). Possibly it was for this reason that allegiance was transferred to the church of St Mary le Bow in Cheapside and later to St Michael, Cornhill, where the company continues to worship today. Despite these changes, the drapers retain the Blessed Virgin Mary as their patron saint.
Originally, the organisation was a trade association of wool and cloth merchants. It has been one of the most powerful companies in London politics. Over one hundred Lord Mayors have been members of the company; the first, Henry Fitz-Ailwin, is thought to have been a draper. During the Plantation of Ulster, the company held land around Moneymore and Draperstown in County Londonderry.
In the 1420s the Drapers’ guild decided to build its first Hall which was in St. Swithin’s Lane. In 1543 the Company purchased the present site from King Henry VIII for £1,200. It had been the London mansion of Thomas Cromwell, who had been attainted for treason and executed in 1540, his property being confiscated by the Crown. His house was built on the site of Austin Friars, an Augustinian friary which had been there from its foundation, probably in the 1260s, until its dissolution in November 1538.
The building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt to designs by Edward Jarman1 in 1671. After another fire in 1772, it was rebuilt again, being completed in 1778. On this occasion the architect was John Gorham. Further extensive alterations were made in the nineteenth century. In the 1860s, the frontage was changed and the interior altered by Herbert Williams. It was later altered once more in 1898-9 by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson. The hall survived the Blitz during the Second World War although windows were broken and a plaster ceiling came down when a land mine landed on the Dutch Church in Austin Friars.
I was asked to advise on the repainting of the exterior.
1 Edward Jarman also designed the second Royal Exchange, the Wax Chandlers’ Hall and the Barbers’ Hall.
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