Jaunt to Stationers’ Hall, London.
I was invited to the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ) 125th anniversary lunch, on 2nd May 2019, which was held in the Stationers’ Hall in London. Many well-known people attended the event, including the president, The Right Hon Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham, who you might know as Floella Benjamin, and best-selling author Kate Mosse (note the ‘E’ on the end of her surname – she’s the author, not the model!)
The picture is of actor and SWWJ drama consultant, Martin Cort, writer Guy Blythman, Me, writer and SWWJ member, Janet Howson. If you’d like to read more about the SWWJ, click here to go to their website and if you’d like to look at the excellent blog of SWWJ archivist, Sylvia Kent, and see more of her photos of the SWWJ 125th anniversary event, click here
Before the lunch, fellow writer, Janet Howson and I had a chance to explore the beautiful hall which was built in 1673 after the previous building was burned to the ground in 1666 during the Great Fire of London. When I realised it was possible to tour the building with a guide, I mentioned it to my cousin, Dave, who – like me – can’t resist an opportunity to look around anything historical, and we decided to book up.
So, on Thursday 16th May 2019, Dave and I joined a guided tour to look around the hall. It began, not in the hall, but in St. Martin Within Ludgate Church and continued through a door at the back of the building which leads into the garden of Stationers’ Hall. A surprisingly peaceful place which is right in the middle of London and just a short walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The guide explained that the Worshipful Company of Stationers was first formed in 1403 when the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London allowed text writers and illuminators of manuscript books, booksellers, bookbinders and suppliers of parchment, pens and paper, to form a stationers’ guild, to protect their craft and trade.
So, why are they called ‘stationers’? Apparently, they traded from stationary stalls around St. Paul’s Cathedral – hence the name.
In 1557, it gained a royal charter as a Livery Company. After printing was introduced in England in 1476, there were great opportunities for printing material both speedily and in great quantities which also increased the possibility of piracy – undesirable to the stationers – and the likelihood of sedition and heresy – feared by the Crown. The Company’s charter in incorporation was granted by Mary Tudor in 1557 which allowed the members to restrict printing and to search for undesirable books. All printers had to join the Company and any books which were permitted were entered in the Hall registers. In 1559, Elizabeth I granted them a livery. No one mentioned what the livery looked like and a quick search on the Internet didn’t reveal anything! If you know, please get in touch.
Apparently, each member is allowed to have their coat of arms displayed and the guide pointed out the one with the crossed scimitars which he said belonged to a rugby fan – and specifically, a Saracens Rugby Club fan. How did he know? Well, the crossed scimitars is a clue and also if you look carefully, above them, is a rugby ball!
There are many boards with recognisable names of current or former members of the Company, such as Rudyard Kipling, J.M. Barrie and W.H. Smith – all successful men. However, we were told the printer on the list above, for the years 1605 and 1606 – R. Barker should have been a wealthy man – instead, he lost all his money and died penniless. The reason Robert Barker should have been rich is because he was the printer to King James I of England and it was his job to print the newly authorised King James’ Bible. However, a typographical error resulted in him printing what later became known as ‘The Wicked Bible’ because the word ‘not’ had been omitted from one of the Ten Commandments, so it read “Thou shalt commit adultery.” He was fined a large sum of money and spent the rest of his life in poverty, finally dying in prison.
When our tour ended, Dave and I went back in St. Martin Within Ludgate Church and discovered that beneath our feet, was the foundation of the Roman city wall which later became the Medieval city wall, marking the western limit of the Roman city of Londinium. The west gateway to the city spanned the road outside (Ludgate Hill) which was known as the Lud Gate. The information suggested that it might be named after the mythical British king, Lud, but more likely derives from ‘fludgate’ (floodgate) or the old English ludgeat (postgate).
After our visit to the Stationers’ Hall, Dave and I set off for our next destination – the Mithraeum. On one of our previous jaunts, we’d intended to find it but failed. You can read about how Dave and I failed to find the Mithraeum, by clicking here.