Was your ancestor a member of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers – tenth in order of precedence amongst the Great Twelve livery companies of the City of London? Explore thousands of records of masters and apprentices who were involved in the iron trade, as well as a number of other trades in the City. Apprentices travelled from all over England, from Surrey, Worcester, Cambridge and further afield, to join the Company.
Each record includes a transcript and most include an image of the original record. The amount of information recorded in each transcript and on the original documents will vary depending on the date and the event. You may find a combination of the following information in each transcript:
Role – Apprentice, freeman or master
Freeman’s birth year
Parentage or family
Proposer or presenter
Freedom book volume and page
London Metropolitan Archives reference
There are three types of documents that provide images included in these records:
The older records include lists of apprentices/new freemen on the left and on the right either their master’s name or ‘redemption’ – which means they did not serve an apprenticeship, but paid a fee to become a freeman.
The later books are written as individual entries including apprentice’s name, name of parent, how they were admitted and date.
The entries include: Name, address, date and in the margins some will include the consideration paid. They also include a written and signed oath: ‘I do promise to be obedient to the Master and Wardens of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers during my life and to my said Master during my apprenticeship.’
The information is similar to the other records, but these may also include the master’s parish and the length of the agreed apprenticeship.
Transcript only records
The records without an image are part of the index of freemen. The index of freemen has been compiled from the Company’s Court Minute Books from 1555-2000 (Mss. 16,967/1-56), Registers of Freedom Admissions (Mss. 16,977/1-5), Presentment Books (Mss. 16,981/1-2), and the Registers of Apprentice Bindings (Mss. 16,982/1-2). A number of names have been added to this Index, which have come to light through checking the early Court Minute Books. These had been indecipherable in the freedom books. Papers relating to a freeman’s admission to the Freedom of the City of London have also been checked.
Ironmongers, originally known as the ferroners, traded in iron or iron goods. They imported iron from Germany, Normandy and Spain. Traditionally, ironmongers sold weaponry, tools and also domestic products such as cookery equipment, spades, shovels and even cast iron ovens. The records in this collection are from the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers. The records include a mixture of registers of freedom admissions, register of apprentice bindings, and the index of freemen.
The registers of freedom admission are lists of those who have been given freedom by either patrimony, servitude (an apprenticeship) or redemption (paid a fee). The index of freemen also explains if an individual gained freedom by patrimony, servitude, redemption, as well as, by order of the court, by free gift, by marriage usually given to widows, or by honorary freedom. The register of apprentice bindings contains lists of apprentices who have been bound to a master to begin their years of apprenticeship in order to learn the trade. Not all freemen of the company took up the Freedom of the City. There are detailed ledgers from 1681 recording the names of those granted the Freedom of the City at the Corporation of London Record Office, but there are gaps in the information in the 1680’s and between 1780-84 due to a fire and not all months are recorded in 1864. There is no consistency in giving the occupation of a freeman and the name and occupation of his father. There is a 75-year restriction on members of the public having access to this information.
In the City of London there are currently 110 livery companies and the leading twelve companies are known as the Great Twelve. There are also three additional companies without livery. The older livery companies began as early medieval trade guilds, which were associations of merchants and craftsmen aimed at protecting and regulating their various trades. This they did by insisting on certain standards of material and craftsmanship; many also had a benevolent purpose and cared for their less fortunate members. Through the ages, the companies became influential in the government of the City of London and were also recognised as suitable bodies to which benefactors could entrust charitable monies.
About the City of London’s Livery Companies
Livery companies are so called because in the early fourteenth century many of them assumed distinctive dress and Edward III was known to have been clothed in his livery when attending the Merchant Taylors’ Company events. The Butchers’ Company was known to have had a hall outside the City walls as early as 975 and there was a fraternity of Bakers in 1155; the Weavers' Company has the oldest known charter, 1155.
The guilds whose members engaged in trade and overseas commerce or in luxury goods were of greater influence and standing than the others, and the present accepted order of precedence was laid down in 1516 for the forty-eight companies then in existence. There is a reference in the City records in 1376 to ‘Twelve Principal Mysteries’ and it is known that in the fourteenth century eight of today's Great Twelve companies provided 220 out of 235 city aldermen. Until the second half of the sixteenth century, it was required that aldermen should be members of the Great Twelve. Until 1742 Lord Mayors were also required to be members of the Great Twelve. Many new companies have been formed and some amalgamations have taken place since 1516.
The degree of involvement of companies with their respective trades or industries today varies considerably. The Goldsmiths, Fishmongers, Vintners, Glovers, Stationers and Gunmakers, for example, still have considerable interest and influence in their respective trades, as do some of the more recently-formed companies. Some companies have almost completely lost contact with their original trades and their main work today comprises the administration of charitable trusts and involvement in City pageantry.
The Company’s Origins
The earliest records suggest that the Ironmongers, then known as ‘Ferroners’, were an effective body by 1300, when they took action against the smiths of the Wealds of Kent and Sussex over the quality of iron supplied for the wheels of carts in the City of London. By 1328 they were regarded as a firmly established brotherhood, joining in the elections of the City officials and choosing four of their members to treat with the Mayor and Sheriffs. The Ironmongers' Company received a grant of arms in 1455 and a charter of incorporation from Edward IV in 1463, which was reconfirmed in 1558, 1560, 1604 and 1687 by various monarchs.
The Company's arms embody various iron and steel objects, with two salamanders as a crest, mediaeval salamanders reputedly being able to survive fire. Salamanders as supporters were officially granted in 1923, although they had been used before this time.
Relationship with the Iron Industry and Charitable Development
The Company’s links with the iron and steel industry go back some 500 years. The relationship with the iron industry was greatly affected by the sudden concentration of the smelting and founding of iron in the Midlands and north of Britain, where there were abundant supplies of iron ore and coal, so that the activities of the Company in London were reduced to the administration of charities, participation in the affairs of the City, and its own domestic affairs. Many people who were described as having the occupation of an ‘ironmonger’ from around the sixteenth century were often not members of the Company.
The Ironmongers’ Company has a long history of supporting education. Thomas Betton, a City merchant and Ironmonger who died in 1723, bequeathed half the interest of his estate to redeem British slaves in Barbary and Turkey, one quarter to charity schools in London and one quarter for relief in need. Following the abolition of slavery the use of the half share was altered so that grants could be given to Church of England schools in England and Wales. Through an additional charitable foundation, the Company provides educational grants to primary schools and materials science departments at a number of British universities.
Sir Robert Geffery was twice Master of the Company and was Lord Mayor of London in 1685. Born in the village of Landrake in Cornwall, he died in London in 1704 having made his fortune in overseas trade. He left money for a primary school at Landrake in Cornwall (which is still run by the Company) and also a substantial endowment for alms houses which were built in Shoreditch, east London. These were sold in 1910 to London County Council and now house the Geffery Museum. The Company then built new accommodation and today owns two alms houses in Hampshire.
In 1457 the Company bought buildings in Fenchurch Street and converted them into a Hall, which was later enlarged. It was rebuilt in 1587 and escaped the Great Fire of 1666. A third Hall was built in 1745 on the same site. In the First World War, this Hall was damaged during a German bombing raid on 7 July 1917. After the war, the site was sold and the building demolished. The land in Shaftesbury Place, Aldersgate Street, on which the present Hall stands, was bought in 1922 and the new Tudor-style Hall was opened on 17 June 1925. The Hall had a remarkable escape in December 1940, when another German air raid set fire to all the adjacent buildings, which were destroyed. The Hall survived a further threat in 1966, when it was nearly subject to a compulsory purchase order by the City Corporation to make way for the new Museum of London.
Freemen entering by servitude were usually apprenticed to a freeman of the Company, but not always so, and, if they were turned over to a second master, that master was invariably a freeman of another company. The standard length of apprenticeship was for seven years, but in a number of cases, e.g., when there was political unrest, much longer elapsed between the date of binding and being made free of the Company. When an apprentice was bound, if the name of his father was given and his trade, that information has been added in brackets below the name of the apprentice’s master. Unfortunately, there are many gaps in this information. The spellings of the time have been used for the fathers’ trades. Many of those bound did not take up their freedom in the Company. This did not necessarily mean that they ceased to work as ironmongers, just that they were not sufficiently prosperous. Those freemen presenting apprentices, who had become freemen prior to 1555, and who were mentioned in the Freedom Books have been indicated by the page number being put within brackets, or by putting ‘too early for index’ after their names.
For freemen entering by patrimony, the child must have been born after his father had become a freeman and, by tradition, have reached the age of twenty-one, but in a few cases this has appeared doubtful. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, often when a son had been apprenticed to his father, on entering the Company he was allowed to take up his freedom by patrimony rather than by servitude.
This mode of entry was introduced in 1979 for the sons of freemen who were born after their fathers became freemen and, therefore, were not eligible for entry by patrimony. These freemen had to be proposed and seconded by a member of the Court.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when an applicant was not proposed by a member of the Company, his application was through an Order of the Court of Aldermen. These freemen were presented either by the Lord Mayor, who had the prerogative of proposing up to three applicants for the freedom of the Company during his year of office, or by other officials of the City presenting candidates to be admitted by redemption, thereby supplementing their wages. Among those officials were Attornies of the Mayor’s Court, the Clerks of the Arraigns, Officers of the Commissioners of Sewers, Serjeants of the Chamber and Yeomen of the Waterside. Mr. Chamberlain also presented a number of freemen to defray expenses of the Postern Watch. All those applicants proposed through the Court of Aldermen have been marked with an asterisk after their surnames. Where an applicant was proposed by a freeman (a member of the Court), the latter has been named and, where known, any relationship between the two has been stated. Also, where known, the trade or profession of a freeman at the time of joining the Company by redemption has been given and the name and occupation of his father. A number of the freemen entering by redemption had the right to the freedom in other Companies either by servitude or patrimony but, being ironmongers by trade, preferred to become free of the Ironmongers’ Company. At that time there was no rule of exclusivity which was introduced in 1878.
Order of the court and free gift
These modes were at the discretion of the Court.
Free by marriage
This was awarded to widows of freemen at the discretion of the Court. All these modes were often without payment of fines.
The first entry by this mode was in 1783 and the last in 1973 [Canon Fulljames in 1986; Duke of Edinburgh in 2013]. In recent years, when the company has wished to bestow the freedom on an individual, entry has been by redemption without fine.
The spelling of surnames was not standardised during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The entries vary even between the margins of the Court Minute Books and the texts thereof. Wherever possible, the different spellings have been indicated in brackets. A number of errors have been found in the names typed beside the photo-copies of the original Freedom Books from 1555-1739, to avoid confusion these have been corrected. The original spellings for occupations have been used.
The records from the index of freemen start in 1555, as this was the date on which the first volume of Court Minutes began. In the sixteenth century, the dates given for payment of oaths for freemen being made free were not necessarily the exact dates of admission but, for ease of research, throughout this index the dates of entry in the Court Minute Books have been given. In the early seventeenth century, the dates in the Freedom Books have differed from those in the Court Minute Books. To indicate this, the former dates have been put in brackets under the dates on which the freedom was recorded in the minutes.
To be consistent throughout, the modern numbering for months has been used, for example, eleven for November and not nine. Before the Gregorian Calendar was adopted in 1752, between 1st January and 24th March inclusive, the date for the current and ensuing year has been given, e.g., 1.1.1616 has been shown as 1.1.1616-17.
In the seventeenth century, there are several gaps in the recording of admissions in the 8Court Minutes*, 1602-03, 1611-13 and 1664-65. These gaps coincide with one volume ending and a new one starting, but in 1602-03 there was also political unrest and in 1664-65 it was the time of the Plague. Some names taken from the Freedom Books do not have the full dates for their admissions as they were not recorded in the Court Minutes.
Ranks and titles
The rank or title of a freeman has been put in only if it was held at the date of entry.