In medieval times the various craftspeople formed guilds to support each other in times of hardship, promote excellence in their craft and to protect the trade against outside competition. In London these guilds evolved into the worshipful companies and together they elected the Lord Mayor and played a major role in the running of the city.
By Victorian times the companies importance had dwindled along with the importance of their crafts in the rapidly expanding city, they had become gentleman’s clubs with little if any connection to their original craft. More recently some of the companies have attempted to reconnect with their craft routes and I am pleased to say that the turners company is one. They set up a “register of professional turners” I applied and was accepted onto this register about 5 years ago, the idea is that it helps promote the craft of turning. We are also treated once a year to a rather grand dinner in one of the oldest livery halls in London, the Apothecaries hall which was rebuilt shortly after the great fire.
Our dinner was on Wednesday last week and I had arranged a number of speakers for the day. We had Geoff Egan from the Museum of London Archaeology service to give us an overview of the history of the city, then I talked about medieval wooden bowls from London. Stuart King gave us insights into the turners company history and Paul Coker talked about early “Rose engine turning”. Finally David Dewing curator of the Geffrye Museum in London and Chair of the regional furniture society talked about turning in 17th century London cane chairs, a subject that was completely new to me. One of the most interesting things that came out of the discussions that followed was the role that the great fire had coming as it did just at the point when pottery replaced wood as the daily tableware and when turned parts first became common in furniture and architectural features such as staircases.
It always feels a very different environment to my workshop and it is not often that I have to put a suit on for work but I found the day interesting and thought provoking. I also love the connection with an organisation that has its routes with the turners who made the medieval bowls which I love.