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Membership of the Livery

As in many City Companies, the membership of the Founders was divided into two main classes, namely those admitted to the Livery and a much larger number known as the "Yeomanry" or "Commonalty" who remained outside it.

Between the years 1498 and 1568, the combined membership averaged between 80 and 90, which included a few "sisters" who were probably widows and some "Journeymen Strangers", mostly refugees from France. Then, as now, there were three methods of admission to the Livery, namely by patrimony, being the son of a free Founder at the time of birth; by servitude, or apprenticeship to a member; and by redemption or purchase.

The fact that a minority in the Livery exercised control over a majority in the Yeomanry, who were practising craftsmen of independent habits, inevitably led to friction. This was aggravated by the growing predominance in the Livery as time went on of merchants, as distinct from craftsmen, whose rise to office as Master, Wardens or Court Assistants was resented by the main body of small working founders.

Open revolt broke out in 1651, under the revolutionary influence of Cromwell's triumph and the execution of Charles I, when 16 persons presented a petition on behalf of the Commonalty to the new Government. They complained that "we have for many years been extremely trodden and kept under foot by the power and will of the Master, Wardens, and Assistants", and they attached a list of grievances alleging that these office-holders carried on the affairs of the Company without the knowledge or consent of the Yeomanry, which was expected to obey the rules while having no part in their formulation.

There may well have been good grounds for such complaints, but the petitioners also resorted to political denunciation, alleging that: "The major part of them (the Court) are notoriously disaffected to the present Government and upon all opportunities have manifested their malignity in words and deeds particularly in choosing one Mr. Pilchard, Upper Warden this present year, being a man twice sequestered for delinquency and served the late King at Oxford during the wars. Not much good to be expected from Men so qualified."

The Court defended itself vigorously against these charges by what it called"perverse, proud, and peevish minds" and claimed that its officers had strictly adhered to the Charter and custom of the Company. It also declared that there was not a man on the Court of Assistants who had not given or lent to Parliament and willingly accepted its orders. The Court also charged the rebel ringleaders with refusing to pay their contributions to poor relief and inciting others to default as well. It must have been warm work while it lasted, but unfortunately no record survives of the outcome.

A further source of trouble was the claim asserted by the Company, and dating back to its Ordinances in 1365, that all brass founders working in the City must belong to the Company and obey its rules. This right is also implied in the Charter of 1614 and explicitly reaffirmed by an Order of Common Council in 1753.

There was some sturdy opposition and, as late as 1807, a certain F. J. Bouchet, having been summoned to take up his Livery, "threw the summons at the Beadle and behaved with great indecency and insolence to the Court". The Court seems to have shown a good deal of restraint and commonsense in remitting penalties against offenders who pleaded difficulties due to poverty or illness.

It was not until 1831, however, that a Committee of the Court resolved "that it does not appear by the Charter that the Court can compel Founders to take up their Freedom in this Company".

The Company may well have been glad to abandon claims that it was finding increasingly difficult to justify or enforce.