Mercers' Company
MottoHonor Deo
("Honour to God")
LocationMercers' Hall, 6 Frederick's Place, City of London
Date of formation1394; 630 years ago (1394)
Company associationGeneral merchants
Order of precedence1st
Master of companyMr Peter Lane

The Worshipful Company of Mercers is the premier livery company of the City of London and ranks first in the order of precedence of the Companies. It is the first of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies.[1]

Today, the Company exists primarily as a charitable institution, supporting a variety of causes. The company's motto is Honor Deo, Latin for "Honour to God".


Henry fitz Ailwin, thought a Mercer, was 1st Lord Mayor of London; of mainly English rather than Norman descent, his grandfather Leofstan (c. 1100–1150) was probably the portreeve of London

The Mercers' Company is based at Mercers' Hall, 6 Frederick's Place in the City of London. The city block upon which it stands contains the archaeology of a Roman-British temple known today as Gresham Temple.[2]

Its corporate existence began in the form of a fraternity at least by the reign of King Henry II, in the mid 1100s if not before.[3]

In 1210-1214, the first two Mayors of London, Henry FitzAlwyn and Robert FitzAlwyn were claimed to be members, and branch of the company was established at this time, the Company of Merchant Adventurers, who established themselves at Antwerp, the centre of the cloth trade.[4]

Magna Carta was negotiated by a member of the Mercers

Serlo le Mercer (who was Mayor of London for five terms in the early 1210s)[5] was a member of the company and was one of the negotiators of Magna Carta.[6]

Although of even older origin, the company was incorporated under a Royal Charter in 1394, the company's earliest extant Charter. The company's aim was to act as a trade association for general merchants, and especially for exporters of wool and importers of velvet, silk and other luxurious fabrics (mercers).

From the 14th century onwards the Company held its meetings in the Hospital of St. Thomas of Acon on Cheapside.

William Caxton was a Mercer in the 15th centaury
William Caxton was a Mercer in the 15th century

Around 1438 William Caxton was apprenticed into the Mercers, under Robert Large, becoming a full member in 1452: his work took him into the Low Countries.[7][8]

Between 1517 and 1524 the Company built the Mercer's Chapel on this land, with the first Mercers' Hall above it, fronting Cheapside.[9]

Sir Rowland Hill, convener of the Geneva Bible project was repeatedly master of the company in the mid 16th century

A member of the Mercers, Robert Packington, was murdered on 13 November 1536, the first recorded death by shooting with a handgun; Rose Hickman, a Protestant, recalled how he:

used to bring English bybles from beyond sea

and it is thought this may be connected to the murder.[10] The entrance appears to have been on to Ironmonger Lane, and an interconnecting mansion house was secured by Sir Rowland Hill in 1546, which he later put at the use of his protégée and heir (via his niece) Sir Thomas Leigh.[11] Hill is associated with the publication of the Geneva Bible,[12][13][14] and is considered a possible inspiration for the character Old Sir Rowland in Shakespeare's As You Like It.[15][16][17]

There are accounts of the Mercer's buildings being the focus of London state pageantry in the mid- 16th century. For instance Sir Rowland Hill and Sir Thomas Gresham together with Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, are recording as watching the Midsummer Marchers that would become the Lord Mayor's Show[18][19] from the loggia of the hall.[20][21] Around this time Francis Wren, grandfather of Christopher Wren was a member of the company[22]

Thomas Gresham, painted in 1544

Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, was a member of the mercers. He was admitted in 1543 aged 24 as a liveryman, and later that year he left England for the Low Countries, where, either on his own account or that of his father or uncle, he carried on business as a merchant whilst acting in various matters as agent for King Henry VIII.

The Dead Christ, one of the most important surviving works of late English Catholic sculpture prior to the iconoclasm of the Reformation was secretly preserved in a sand-filled pit under the chapel floor, only being found during repairs after the bomb damage of World War Two.[23][24][25]

Inigo Jones was admitted to the Mercers in 1620

Inigo Jones was admitted as a member in 1620.[26]

The building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The second Hall, designed by Edward Jarman and John Oliver, opened in May 1676.

Following the Napoleonic Wars the first Viscount Hill, the Peninsular general, a relative (via his uncle, Ralph Hill) of the Lord Mayor of the same name[27] was admitted to the company honouring his soldiering.

The Hall was extensively refurbished during the period 1877 to 1881 (the porch of the 1676 building is now incorporated into the facade of Swanage Town Hall).

Mercers' Hall in Ironmonger Lane

The frontage was remodelled by George Barnes Williams and the interiors were redesigned by John Gregory Crace, the renowned Victorian designer. The Hall was destroyed by fire in 1941 during the Blitz. The third and present Mercers' Hall was opened in May 1958. The architect was E. Noel Clifton of Gunton and Gunton. The Hall incorporates fittings from the old Hall, including some 17th-century woodwork and Victorian stained glass.

The Mercers' Company is the only City Livery Company to have its own private chapel.


Children whose father or mother was a member of the Company at the time of their birth have an automatic right to become Mercers by 'patrimony'.

Most other members have a family connection to the company and obtain their Freedom by Redemption. Under this process applicants are recommended for membership after an interview and, if approved, they pay a sum of money called a 'fine'.

Other people can also become Members by Redemption. Membership is sometimes granted because the Company wishes to honour the individual. Notable Members who joined the company by Redemption are Thomas More and Winston Churchill.

One other route to membership is by apprenticeship, but this has not happened recently. In the early days this was a very usual route; an apprentice would be 'bound' to a Member for a term of about seven years but in exchange the member was required to teach the apprentice such that he was worthy of membership by the end of the term, when he became a 'Freeman', for he was no longer bound. Freemen of a Livery Company are also Freemen of the City of London, which used to carry certain privileges, such as the right to drive a flock of sheep without charge over London Bridge.


The word "mercer" derives from the Latin merx, mercis, "merchandise"[28] from which root the word "merchant" is also derived.[29]

The words mercero and mercier, still used in Spanish and French respectively, have meanings similar to haberdasher, although the medieval mercers would not have recognised any relationship to that trade which was covered by the separate Worshipful Company of Haberdashers.

Charitable activities

In education, the company has administered St Paul's School since 1509 (and its prep school St Paul's Juniors), St Paul's Girls' School since 1904, two prep schools in London, The Hall School and Bute House, and retains close links with Collyer's College, Dauntsey's School, Abingdon School, Peter Symonds College and Gresham College, all founded by mercers.[30] In recent times the company has founded a City Technology College (Thomas Telford School) and two City Academies (Walsall Academy and Sandwell Academy).

There was also a Mercers' School[31] which was granted its first charter in 1447, and closed in 1959 when pupil numbers fell. The school was most recently based in Barnard's Inn in Holborn, now the home of Gresham College.

In 2011, the Mercers co-sponsored a new academy school, Hammersmith Academy, specialising in creative and digital media and information technology, located in Hammersmith.[32] The school was established in a new building, with support from the Mercers[33] and the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.[34]

Coat of arms

Arms of the Mercers Company, published in 1633, confirmed with additional detail by the College of Arms in 1911

The origin of the "Mercers' Maiden", the heraldic emblem of the company, is not known. Unlike most of the City livery companies, the Mercers had no early grant of arms but the 1425 charter granted a common seal. A few impressions of the early seal survive showing a greatly simplified version of the present coat of arms. The fifteenth century Wardens' Accounts reveal that, even then, the Company required the device of the Maid's Head to be displayed on its property. In 1530 the Company stated to the College of Heralds that they had no arms but only a Maid's Head for their common seal and in 1568 the Heralds registered the seal as the company's arms.

In 1911 the College of Arms confirmed the arms and granted the company a crest and motto, 'Honor Deo' (Honour to God). The grant blazons the arms: Gules, issuant from a bank of clouds a figure of the Virgin couped at the shoulders proper vested in a crimson robe adorned with gold the neck encircled by a jeweled necklace crined or and wreathed about the temples with a chaplet of roses alternately argent and of the first and crowned with a celestial crown the whole within a bordure of clouds also proper.

Current activities

Porch of the 1676 hall, now in Swanage

Every year the Mercers' Company publishes an annual review of their activities. The property portfolio includes 90 residential flats in Covent Garden. In an average year they might give away £7 million, about one-sixth of the total charitable contributions of 110 livery companies.[1]


Main article: Master of the Mercers' Company

More and Churchill were made members by Redemption.

Famous Mercers include:

See also


  1. ^ a b Engel, Matthew (21 December 2012). "British institutions: livery companies". Archived from the original on 10 December 2022. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  2. ^ "Gresham Temple". MOLA. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  3. ^ "The Mercers' Company City of London". Intriguing History. 10 April 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  4. ^ "The Mercers' Company City of London". Intriguing History. 10 April 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  5. ^ "Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs: 1188-1239" in Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs of London 1188-1274, ed. H.T. Riley. London: Trübner, 1863. pp. 1-8. British History Online. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  6. ^ William Hardel. Magna Carta Trust. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  7. ^ Wight, C. "Caxton's Chaucer - The Merchant". Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  8. ^ "Bloomsbury Collections - William Caxton And English Literary Culture". Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  9. ^ Richard Newcourt. Repertorium Ecclesiasticum Parochiale Londinense: Comprising all London and ... p. 554. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  10. ^ Ridgway, Author: Claire (13 November 2015). "13 November 1536 - The Murder of Robert Packington - The Tudor Society". Retrieved 8 July 2023. ((cite web)): |first= has generic name (help)
  11. ^ Watney, John (1906). Some account of the Hospital of St. Thomas of Acon, in the Cheap, London : and of the plate of the Mercers' Company. PIMS - University of Toronto. London : Printed by Blades, East & Blades.
  12. ^ Besant, Sir Walter (1904). London in the Time of the Tudors. Adam and Charles Black.
  13. ^ A New Family Bible, and Improved Version ... With Notes, Critical and Explanatory ... By the Rev. B. Boothroyd. The author. 1824.
  14. ^ "Subscription". Boston Daily Globe. 12 April 1886. p. 2. Archived from the original on 21 February 2023. Retrieved 8 August 2023 – via Newspapers.
  15. ^ "Archaeological dig unlocking the mysteries of historic site near Wem". Whitchurch Herald. 15 June 2023. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  16. ^ Austin, Sue (21 April 2023). "Revealed: Links between Shropshire country hall and the King's Coronation". Retrieved 10 September 2023.
  17. ^ "PRESS MENTION: Shakespeare in Shropshire". BYRGA GENIHT | Country House Consultancy. Retrieved 20 November 2023.
  18. ^ "The Midsummer Watch- an old tradition, revived". Records of Early English Drama: Civic London 1558–1642. 6 April 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2022.
  20. ^ De Laune, Thomas (October 2009). The present state of London: or, Memorials comprehending a full and succinct account of the ancient and modern state thereof. By Tho. De-Laune, Gent.
  21. ^ Burgon, John William (1839). The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Gresham: Comp. Chiefly from His Correspondence Preserved in Her Majesty's State-paper Office: Including Notices of Many of His Contemporaries. With Illustrations. Robert Jennings.
  22. ^ Mathew David (1948). The Social Structure In Caroline England.
  23. ^ "The Mercers' Christ - art installation services, sculpture conservation". Patina Art Collection Care Ltd. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  24. ^ Tate. "Statue of the Dead Christ on loan for the first time to Tate Britain from Mercers' Hall for Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm – Press Release". Tate. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  25. ^ "The Dead Christ". Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  26. ^ "Design for stained glass or plasterwork incorporating the arms of Charles I for the Mercers' Company, London". RIBApix. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  27. ^ "The Aldermen of the City of London". Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  28. ^ Sutton, Anne, op. cit., p.2
  29. ^ Cassell's Latin Dictionary, Merchant & Charles
  30. ^ "Independent Schools". Mercers. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  31. ^ Old Mercers Club
  32. ^ "Hammersmith Academy". London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, UK. Archived from the original on 12 December 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
  33. ^ "Hammersmith Academy". The Mercers' Company, City of London, UK. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
  34. ^ "Hammersmith Academy". The Information Technologists' Company, City of London, UK. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
  35. ^ Girouard, Mark, Thynne, Sir John (1512/13–1580), estate manager and builder of Longleat in Oxford Dictionary of Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  36. ^ Julian Roberts, ed. (2005). "A John Dee Chronology, 1509–1609". Renaissance Man: The Reconstructed Libraries of European Scholars: 1450–1700 Series One: The Books and Manuscripts of John Dee, 1527–1608. Adam Matthew Publications. Retrieved 27 October 2006.

Further reading

51°30′51″N 0°05′30″W / 51.51416°N 0.09164°W / 51.51416; -0.09164