Balancing civic and religious roles in a modern world
As a Company with almost 700 years of history, it is little wonder that there are a great many traditions stitched into the fabric of life as a Merchant Taylor. However, Merchant Taylors are not insular, and so over this time have played an active role within the growing City of London; from fostering close relations with monarchs, founding schools across the country and leading in moments of great political and social change, the Company’s legacy is broad and fascinating. As the Company grew out of the late medieval period, the Company's links to the Church were of great importance to members, especially as it began as a religious fraternity.
As a result, the annual calendar is full of events for members to engage with their Company and the City more widely, with links remaining with the Church. From church services to charity events held for the charity of the Lord Mayor, there are a wealth of events each year that provides insight into London and the Company’s rich past.
One of the highlights of the Company’s calendar is the annual Billesden Dinner. It celebrates the Lord Mayor Sir Robert Billesden’s decree in 1484 – after fraught relations between the Merchant Taylors’ and the Skinners’ Companies came to a head – that the two Companies would alternate for positions six and seven in perpetuity. Today, the Companies host one another annually for dinner to exchange formally the positions and to re-affirm strong relations between them both.
In order to ensure that the Company delivers on its ambitious aims to change people’s lives through philanthropy and education, Merchant Taylors’ works closely with the City. The relationship between the Company and the City is one of partnership. Primarily, the Company’s livery vote for both the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs annually, selecting to the role those candidates whose values champion a strong, inclusive and fair City of London. The Company must therefore continue to engage its members on City-wide matters and on the heart of their work: philanthropic good. Similarly, the City must continue to serve the communities of residents and workers within the City, championing fairness and a strong economic appeal to businesses. A key example of how the City Corporation is doing this, is through their Air Quality Strategy, which plans to improve air quality within the Square Mile in accordance to World Health Organisation standards. The Company has welcomed this news and is taking steps also to reduce its carbon footprint for a cleaner, greener London, some of which can be read here.
The Company's relationship with the Church has evolved through time. Once, a small chapel was housed in the Hall's Great Hall for members' use. Today, while the chapel has gone, the Company continues its patronage and ties to several churches and three services throughout the year allow members to participate in a more religious aspect of Company life.
The Company patronises St Paul’s Swanley Village and St Helen Bishopsgate with ties to St Paul’s Cathedral continuing to this day.