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. Having played an active role within the growing City of London; 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. The Company grew out of the late medieval period, beginning as the Fraternity to St John the Baptist, thus links to the Church were of great importance to members.
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.
One of the highlights of the Company 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.
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 for all. The Company must therefore 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. An 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. In the early years, there was a small chapel housed in the Company's Great Hall for members' use. Today, while the chapel has gone, the Company continues its patronage of several churches and there are three services throughout the year to 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.