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Number 14 visits number 15!

In the Livery Company hierarchy, fixed by the Lord Mayor over 500 years ago to put an end to arguments about their order of precedence in processions, the Brewers are number 14 and the Leathersellers are number 15.  Both were founded by a Royal Charter from King Henry VI, in 1438 and 1444 respectively. These are not the only similarities, as staff from the Brewers found out on a recent visit to the splendid new Leathersellers’ Hall in St Helen’s Place, just off Bishopsgate.

For example, James Hutchinson was Clerk to the Leathersellers for 41 years (1760-1801), while his son Bury Hutchinson was Clerk to the Brewers for 42 years (1782 to 1824). On his father’s death, Bury applied for the vacant post with the Leathersellers and was appointed – but kept his Brewers’ job too, and so from 1801 on was Clerk to both Companies.

In 1819 a fire burnt down Leathersellers’ Hall. Bury Hutchinson worked hard through the night to save what he could from the flames, but the building itself was destroyed. During the three years it took before their replacement Hall was built, the Leathersellers relocated to Brewers’ Hall.

After Bury’s death in 1824 both Companies needed a new Clerk. They must have felt that the joint arrangement had worked, since both appointed the same man: William Vines.  He divided his time  between the Brewers and Leathersellers, living in an apartment above Leathersellers’ Hall. Here he installed his widowed mother and two spinster sisters from Wiltshire, as well as his own daughter, who was born out of wedlock and whom he brought up from infancy onwards. William never married, and the identity and fate of the mother of his daughter remains a mystery.  He must have led a full life, running two Livery Companies and supporting three generations of female relations. One day in 1848, after 24 years as Clerk to both Companies, he jumped from an upper window at Leathersellers’ Hall and fell to his death in St Helen’s Place. An inquest held at the Hall the following day found he had committed suicide while his mind was temporarily deranged. Given the legal and social taboos around suicide in Victorian England, the case was hushed up and his body taken back to his home village in Wiltshire for a discreet burial.

This left the Brewers and Leathersellers without a Clerk again. Despite the sad demise of William Vines, they both decided to appoint William’s nephew, Charles Richard Vines, to be their next Clerk. He held both posts for 22 years, but was the last of the joint Clerks. From 1880 on, the Companies employed separate Clerks again – after some 80 years of being run by one person.

Other links between the two Companies are found through their Beadles. Charles Cripps senior was the Brewers’ Beadle, 1838-1876, while his son, Charles Cripps junior, was Beadle to the Leathersellers, 1862-1878.  As a young man in Oxfordshire, Charles senior was an aspiring artist who lacked the funds to be properly trained. His talent was spotted by the well-known artist Benjamin Haydon (who figures prominently in the recent Mike Leigh film about Turner). The poet John Keats also championed Cripps’ artistic talent, and mentions him in a number of letters. Despite this help, Cripps never quite made it as a successful painter in later life and after 1838 resided at Brewers’ Hall, where he earned a regular salary as the Beadle. In his spare time he took on painting commissions, specialising in copying old portraits. The Leathersellers still have three of his large oil paintings, showing two of their 17th century Masters and an 18th century Clerk. Cripps was also commissioned by the Brewers, to make a copy of the original portrait of Dame Alice Owen at Brewers’ Hall (by the Flemish artist Paul van Somer), so that Dame Alice Owen’s School, then in Islington but now at Potters Bar, could have its own copy. The original portrait at the Hall was destroyed in 1940 during the Blitz, so it is fortunate that Cripps made this copy which still shows us what Dame Alice looked like.  We also still have over 700 small portrait sketches and caricatures drawn by Cripps, in an old Scrapbook at Brewers’ Hall (an example is shown above) – evidence perhaps that his heart always remained more in art than in working as a Beadle!

In much more recent times, another connection between the two Companies can be found in Jerome Farrell, the Archivist for both the Brewers’ and the Leathersellers’ Companies. It is through Jerome that the visit to the new Leathersellers’ Hall was arranged, and that the many historical overlaps between our two Companies have come to light.