I took that picture in 2004 or 5 in London. Back when I was in museum work, I was researching the Joiners’ Company Records, looking for the names of London joiners who went to New England. This image however is from the Carpenters’ Company records, it’s too long a story to go into now. I eventually published a little of that research – I recently re-found it online here https://www.incollect.com/articles/connecting-a-london-trained-joiner-to-1630s-plymouth-colony
But I have spent part of this morning looking back on a different article I worked on for years but never finished and thus never published. The subject was too broad – and kept going off in great tangents – it was to be about 17th-century apprenticeships, journeymen and the trade “companies” of London (and elsewhere in England). Apprenticeships of course were used here in New England too, but the other components -journeymen and trade companies (today we’d call them “guilds”) didn’t really transfer over here. So I opened my notes from reading The Worshipful Company of Turners of London – Its Origin and History by A.C. Stanley-Stone, (London: Lindley-Jones & Brother, 1925)
“ …no person using the misterie (the craft) was to be allowed to be a master workman, or set up a shop for such work, until he had satisfied the Master, Wardens, and Assistants that he had served seven years as apprentice and two years as a journeyman, and had also made such pieces of work as might be comanded.”
I take this to mean that a turner working within the city limits had to show his “indentures” – papers proving he’d served his time, additionally, at times he might be directed to make what the company elsewhere refers to as a “proof piece.” Here’s two examples of these situations:
“11th November 1614 Lawrence Clarke was fined £3 for setting up his shop without having served two years as a journeyman and was directed to make for his proof piece a linen wheel and bring it to the Hall. On the same day, Thomas Fawken…was ordered to make for his proof piece a man’s arm stool.”
What an “arm stool” is I don’t know. Today we don’t think of stools as having backs, let alone arms. But backstool is a common term in 17th century England and New England. This might be the only time I’ve seen the term arm stool.
Back to Stanley-Stone’s book:
“There was a certain amount of fear that some of the proof pieces produced by applicants for membership might have been made by someone other than the applicant, and to meet this, on the 20th May 1617 it was ordered that there should be a lathe, a cutting block, and a winding block set up in the warehouse to make the proof pieces by such as were appointed to make them. The lathe had not yet been set up on the 13th July 1617 when Richard Chamberlain was ordered to make…a high stool for a child.”
Well, I know what a lathe is – and I’m pretty sure what a “cutting block” is – but the winding block I still don’t know & won’t guess.
Randle Holme illustrated a turner’s chopping block, described as a “Block is made of Elme tree, or some other Soft wood set on three feet. Some Turners use in stead a peece of a trunk of a tree of a foot and a halfe high or more from the flore.”
I’m glad for these histories of the trade companies – but it’s important to keep in mind that the author(s) are at times quoting the period records, at other times summarizing them. There’s one I’ve used many times – this record about the Company seizing chairs –
“20th February 1615 It was directed that the makers of chairs about the City, who were strangers and foreigners, were to bring them to the Hall to be searched according to the ordinances. When they were thus brought and searched, they were to be bought by the Master and Wardens at a price fixed by them, which was 6s per dozen for plain matted chairs and 7s per dozen for turned matted chairs. The effect of such an order…all chairs which came into London had to be submitted to the Company and if approved, were taken over at the fixed price. The Turners reaped the benefit by the removal of possible competition.”
The definition of the word “foreigner” varied quite a bit, in some cases it refers to “persons not owing allegience to the British crown,” in other cases, a countryman come into London for work, “non-freemen of the city and Companies.” In either sense a foreigner was often treated harshly. These notes are from E. B. Jupp, An Historical Account of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, (London, Pickering & Chatto, 1887). “The former were constantly the objects of popular persecution, and sometimes fell victims in the unequal struggle. The latter were obliged to take up their freedom, or were fined for daring to exercise their calling.”
These chairmakers bring their chairs to the city, thinking to sell them, but the Company seizes them & pays for them at prices determined by the Company! Then there’s the whole “plain matted chairs” versus “turned matted chairs” issue. I have taken this to mean some of these chairs are shaved rather than turned. Matted chairs have fiber seats, often rushes. I used to make versions of them based on a few surviving examples and Dutch art – & collaborated with Bob Trent & Jennie Alexander on this article about that type of chair – https://chipstone.org/images.php/581/American-Furniture-2008/Early-American-Shaved-Post-and-Rung-Chairs
A common problem was turners working for joiners or carpenters. One fear was that the joiners or carpenters were learning to turn their own work. And it seems the Company would look the other way if a fine was paid:
“12th November 1622 William Gryme was charged for putting his apprentice to work at the trade of Turning within a joiners to make Turner’s work for the joiner, and was ordered to take him home … 6th July 1630…Christopher Bere was charged with working in a joiner’s house and teaching them the trade of Turning.”
“…it was ordered that every Turner who worked and turned in the shop or other rooms of any Joiner, Carpenter, or Coachmaker should pay ten shillings for every week he should continue so working after being warned.”
Outside of the city, joiners and turners worked side-by-side – or were even one person. The well-known Stent panel clearly is not London-made – or if it is, then a fine was paid for these two workmen to be working together. When I first learned about the London Companies, or trade guilds, I thought they were nice succinct packages – turners here, joiners there, that sort of thing. But one catch is that a tradesman only needs to be a member of a London Company – it doesn’t have to be the one aligned with his trade.
“7th March 1625…complaint of the Master and Wardens of the Company of Turners against Richard Newberrie and others free of the Company of Salters, but using the trade of a Turner, for making, as they alleged, “insufficient bandeleeres” and for refusing to bring their wares to the…Turners Hall…”
Another of Stanley-Stone’s summaries is worth looking at:
“18th February 1629…a Petition…that the Company of Turners “is verie smale,” and consisted altogether of “handy trades men”; that within the last five years about thirty householders free of other Companies had earned a living by turnery, and were not under government as regards their trade, but took as many apprentices as they liked to the great harm of the Company of Turners…”
That can really throw a monkey wrench in research. If you wanted to know about joiners in London at that time – you’d think if you learned all about the Joiners Company, you’d be covered. But somehow you have to cast your net wider. The most detailed example of this sort of thing is the book Early Planemakers of London: Recent Discoveries in the Tallow Chandlers and the Joiners Companies by Don & Anne Wing (the Mechanick’s Workbench, Marion, Massachusetts, 2005) The Wings got through this problem backwards – they found an “early” plane marked with the name John Gilgrest – and by searching his name found him listed in the Tallow Chandlers Company – the whole story (as of 2005) is outlined in their excellent book.