Knocking on Livery Company doors in the City of London

This brass elephant head is a door knocker in the City of London at the meeting hall of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers. Their hall is a lovely terracotta coloured building near St Pauls Cathedral. Cutlers made or traded in things that cut such as knives, swords, scissors and scalpels etc.

The cutlers guild was in Cheapside in C13th although they did not get a charter until early C15th. The hall was built in 1887 and has a frieze above the windows showing the different techniques involved in the trade such as hafting which is preparing the handles and fitting them to the blades. The Cutlers coat of arms is a red shield with three sets of crossed swords and a crest at the top of an elephant with a houdah on its back. Why elephants? Possibly because ivory was used for decorating the handles of knives, swords and razors.

Livery companies evolved after the Henry VIII abolished all guilds. They used to control their trade within the City boundaries but today they are associations of people linked to the trade and most no longer exercise any control over it. They have always been responsible for the welfare and education of their member’s families and today most promote education and sponsor charities. The Cutlers are ranked 18th in order of precedence in the City.

The Mercers, who sold different kinds of cloth, including cloth of gold are ranked 1st. Their coat of arms is described as a Demi-Virgin, that is, the top half of the Virgin Mary. Their hall is in Ironmonger Lane and it backs onto a cul-de-sac of Georgian houses called Fredericks Place. Two door knockers here are in the shape of the demi-Virgin, No 8, designed in 1750 by Robert Adam and No 6 which the Mercers office. A square blue plaque on the wall says that Benjamin Disraeli worked there. He was a young man at the time and was training to be a lawyer here but he did not fit in because he was a dandy and did not dress soberly enough to be a convincing lawyer.

One of the rare livery companies that still controls a trade is the Goldsmiths. A door knocker on their hall features leopard heads. In 1300 Edward I decreed that high carat gold and silver sold on London should be stamped with an image of a leopard’s head to confirm the purity of the metal. The Goldsmiths are 5th in the order of precedence on livery companies in the City.

The last door knocker does not belong to a livery company. It is on a 1914 building that was originally a bank but is now the Hung Drawn and Quartered pub. This was the horrible way traitors were executed and one of London’s biggest execution sites, Tower Hill is nearby. I like the lion door knocker and that’s why he is included.

About the author: Gail Jones

Tourist Guide

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