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12 March 2022

Huguenots and the remodelling of the Masons Company, 1680-1740

Tag(s): History, Languages & Culture
Regular readers of these blogs may recall that I became a Fellow of the Huguenot Society last year. I wrote about this in my blog The Huguenots in April 2021.[i] This week I attended my first in-person event of the Society which was a fascinating lecture entitled ‘Huguenots, Whigs and the remodelling of the Masons’ Company, 1680 -1740’. Given my interest in the Livery Companies as a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Marketors, my family connection with the Huguenots and my passion for history this was right up my street.

The lecture was given by Dr Ian Stone, Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London and author of The History of London. Dr Stone has been researching and writing a History of the Worshipful Company of Masons which is due to be published in September. He also specialises in medieval history so is comfortable with the interpretation of ancient documents. Just to be clear the Masons’ Company has nothing to do with the Freemasons but is founded on the craft of Stone Masonry. How appropriate that Dr Stone is their chosen author. Like all Livery Companies in the early years, they were organised around a craft. If in the City of London, and later in the City of Westminster, you wanted to practice that craft then you would need to join the Masons’ Company either in Servitude, i.e. as an Apprentice, or by Redemption which meant that you paid a fine to join but immediately became a Freeman of the Company, or by Patrimony which meant that your father had been a member before you.

By 1690 the Great Fire of London and royal attacks on the Corporation and companies of London brought the Worshipful Company of Masons to its knees. Over the course of the next three decades, however, its position was transformed and its character remodelled as large numbers of Huguenot men and women joined the Company’s ranks.

Livery Companies effectively had a monopoly over their craft within the City of London. This was granted by Royal Charter which did not come cheaply as the King or Queen would use this as an opportunity to derive income both up front and out of future earnings. The monarchs exploited the wealth of the Livery Companies to finance their wars. Some Livery Companies were forced to negotiate several Royal Charters over the years.

However, the Stuart Kings seemed particularly voracious and indeed one of the reasons for the fall of Charles I was that the Livery Companies would not accede to his excessive demands nor would they finance his side of the Civil War, but rather favoured Oliver Cromwell. This was neither forgotten nor forgiven by Charles II on his restoration and he used Parliament to move towards breaking down the monopoly power of the Livery Companies. London expanded greatly at this time and so the Livery Companies found it more difficult to compete.

The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed most of the Halls but also other property that the Livery Companies owned thus depriving them of rent. Of course, the rebuilding of the City should have given companies like the Masons the opportunity of substantial new business but shorn of their monopoly over both labour and trade these were difficult times.

Through researching the minutes of the Court of the Masons’ Company Dr Stone has learnt that the Masons consciously moved to free up their long-standing rules and practices in various ways. Firstly, they relaxed the clear rule that Freemen had to practice the craft of stone masonry. Secondly, they started to admit women for the first time. Thirdly they reduced the quarterage that they charged new Freemen. And fourthly they deliberately paid a gratuity to individuals who helped them recruit new Freemen.

In the first four decades after the Great Fire from 1666 to 1705 only 46 new Freemen were recruited by Redemption and 27 by Patrimony. In the next four decades from 1706 to 1745 212 new Freemen were recruited by Redemption and 45 by Patrimony. This was a direct result of these changes in policy. Many of the new Freemen during this period were Exchange brokers or bankers in the modern parlance. And of these a substantial number were Huguenots.

Here are ten Huguenot Exchange brokers identified by Dr Stone:
  1. James Lanze, son of Peter and Dorothy from Lyons, 1707 naturalised, 1708 free, witnessed weddings at the Huguenot Church in Swallow Street Westminster
  2. Paul Minville Lacoze, 1683 denizen, 1708 free, 1686-9 served as deacon of the French Protestant Church in Threadneedle Street
  3. James Mazel. Son of Francis and Jane in the Cevennes, 1703 naturalised, 1721 free
  4. John James Cext, son of John and Jane in Languedoc, 1705 naturalised, associated with Huguenot churches at Glasshouse Street, Westminster, and St Martin Orgars in the City of London
  5. Guy Scipio, born to John Guy and Clare in Beziers, a former soldier, 1699 naturalised, 1721 free
  6. Henry Latane, son of Henry and Anna from Touviens, 1704 naturalised, 1721 free, lived in the parish of St Anne, in Westminster
  7. Francis Viouja, 1721 free, he and his wife Hélène were congregants at the conformist St Martin Orgars
  8. Andrew Bonovrier, son of Isaac, 1702 naturalised, 1722 free
  9. John Lewis Paulhan, his wedding to Marie at St Martin Orgars in 1714 was witnessed by John James Cext, had his children baptised at the French Church in Threadneedle Street, 1723 free
  10. John du Maistre, 1711 free, the John du Maistre, or indeed the son of the John du Maistre, who was a congregant of the French church in Threadneedle Street in 1680?
When I say that women were admitted for the first time, there had been women in the Company as in other Livery Companies but normally this happened when their husbands died, and they assumed responsibility for the business. Now they could join as Freemen in their own right. It is unlikely that any women at this time were actual stone masons, but Dr Stone has learnt that several women were new Freemen of the Company running their own businesses in various markets, some in the City.

This practice, no doubt common to other Livery Companies at this time, died out not through changes in written rules but just in common practice. The lecture was focused on the Masons, who were at particular risk, but many other Livery Companies faced major challenges and no doubt made similar decisions just to survive. My own ancestor, Sir James Esdaile, third generation Huguenot immigrant, was first a girdler, then a banker by profession but joined the Worshipful Company of Coopers, became its Master, was elected an Alderman and was Lord Mayor in 1777. I doubt very much if he ever put his hands to making a barrel.

As a Liveryman of a modern Livery company, I have huge admiration for the ancient companies like the Masons that have survived such challenges and have lasted for such a long time. In the case of the Masons, they were founded in 1376 though no doubt a ‘mistery’ of masons existed beforehand. In 1472, the Company was granted armorial bearings, and in 1481 they ratified a set of ordinances before the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London. In 1675, Thomas Strong, a liveryman and subsequently Court Assistant, laid the foundation stone of St Paul’s Cathedral, and thirty-three years later, in 1708, his brother Edward Strong, a Past Master of the Company, laid the last stone on the lanthorn of the Cathedral. In 1677, the Company was formally incorporated by Royal Charter, but this was withdrawn just seven years later precipitating the crisis that led to the subject of this blog.

[i]  The Huguenots 10th April, 2021

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