The Company began as the Fraternity of St John the Baptist, concerned as much with the spiritual welfare of its members as with trade regulation. The Company still possesses two elaborate embroidered hearse cloths bearing the Company arms, one of c.1490 and the other of c.1520, which were placed on the coffin at members’ funerals. These are now displayed in the Hall.

In 1413 a bequest from John Churchman, a Company Member, established the first almshouses in London. These were just east of the Hall, in Threadneedle Street, and were for Company Members’ use.

Another bequest in 1514, from James Wylford, established a sermon in Holy Week, to be delivered in the church of St Bartholomew by the Exchange. St Bartholomew’s was demolished in the early 19th century, and the annual sermon is now delivered in the church of St Helen Bishopsgate. It is believed to be the only pre-Reformation sermon charity still in existence.

By the end of the Middle Ages the Company had a chapel in the Hall, another chapel in St Paul’s Cathedral, and close links with the church of St Martin Outwich, which used to stand at the Bishopsgate end of Threadneedle Street. The Company is still patron of two churches, St Helen Bishopsgate and St Paul’s Swanley.

Over the centuries the Company came to be trustee of over 70 charities. In the 20th century these were amalgamated into a far smaller number of consolidated charities.

The almshouses are now in Lewisham, where the Company is thought to be the largest non-NHS provider of care for the elderly.

Further information can be found in The History of the Merchant Taylors’ Company, by Matthew Davies and Ann Saunders (Maney, 2004). This includes a select bibliography. Copies are available from the Company.