The Blacksmiths’ Company was originally known as “The Fraternity of St Loie”. The earliest references are to be found in historical records which are not our property and, on behalf of the Company, have never been systematically or industriously explored. Guilds or Associations of Workmen combined for a lawful purpose have always existed, but the origin of the Guilds of the City of London is obscure.
The earliest written manuscript in the possession of the Blacksmiths’ Company bears the date 1421 and consists of an inventory of all the furniture and appointments of the Hall; and this is followed by accounts of receipts and expenditure which continue for several years. The Company had been granted a lease (1494-1495) and as a result considerable repairs and improvements were carried out. That Hall was then an old building and it is noticeable that much of the furniture and appointments had been in the possession of the Company for some time. However, it is not possible to determine whether the Company occupied the Hall before the granting of the lease.
The written records are wonderfully well preserved; there is a vast mass of material and, with the exception of a few gaps, the records are continuous from the end of the Fifteenth Century to the present day. They consist of Minutes, Accounts, Inventories and Records of the Binding of Apprentices. An enormous number of names are inscribed and, in the case of the Apprentices, the names of the boys’ fathers and of the towns or the villages of their origin. It is interesting to note that very few of these boys were born in the City of London.
At the close of the Fifteenth Century the Blacksmiths’ Company was to a large extent a religious body; its members were described as “Brethren” and their wives as “Sisters”. Religion was the ruling purpose of the Craft, and Secular Government was a less prominent feature than it appears in later times. The obsequies of the dead and departed members were faithfully observed and absence from Mass of Requiem resulted in the penalty of a fine, unless a reasonable excuse was forthcoming. Every year on St Andrew’s Day, a solemn “Dirge” was sung of the souls of deceased members. All attended and afterwards a feast was held in the Hall where beer and spiced delicacies of a peculiar character associated with funerals were provided.
The funds of the Company were kept in a Common Chest which was placed in the care of the Wardens – three in number – and only opened in the presence of an assembled body of the members. This chest or a similar, later one is still in the possession of the Company. At that time, the Company had little money and its material possessions were not valuable but there is evidence to show that the Brethren and Sisters were worthy and honourable citizens.