Discovering the history and home of hallmarking jewellery at The Goldsmiths’ Hall.
In 1339 nineteen goldsmiths purchased a property on Foster Lane, in The City of London, for the Goldsmiths’ Company. Though extended in area and rebuilt due to The Great Fire of London, it remains on the identical site on which The Goldsmiths’ Hall stands today, and no other company can claim a longer or earlier tenure.
In the 14th Century, early legislation had instructed the Wardens, testing gold and silver wares, to go from shop to shop among the goldsmiths to assay and test their gold and silver and regulate the purity of precious metals.
It set a selling standard (in effect, the earliest form of consumer protection!) In 1478 a stamp law was passed and the proper ‘Assay’ office was established with a salaried official, Christopher Elyot. The makers’ mark was created with symbols for the maker, town and date mark.
The furnace for testing was kept alight each day in The Goldsmiths’ Hall each day from 08.00am to 12.00pm and wares had to be brought to the Hall to be tested and marked, and it is believed the term ‘hallmarking’ originated at this time.
Then in May 1830, after the Napoleonic Wars, it was decided to rebuild the Hall and final approval was given to plans which had already been commissioned from the Company’s Surveyor, Philip Hardwick. The resulting building was reopened on 15th July 1835 with the Duke of Wellington in attendance.
Hardwick’s masterpiece still stands today although it has been altered through the later changes of fashion in decoration, by bomb damage in the Second World War and, more recently, expanding requirement of The Goldsmiths’ Company in its increased activities.
The Staircase Hall
One enters into The Staircase Hall and is fronted with the richly moulded and gilded dome with massive electrolier suspended from the centre. The spandrels supporting the dome are enriched with the Coat of Arms of King Richard II, by whose charter of 1393 the Company was incorporated; the Goldsmiths’ Company, the City of London and King William IV, during whose reign the present building was erected.
In the North aisle hangs a portrait of HRH The Prince of Wales in his uniform of a Colonel of the Welsh Guards and wearing his Garter robes by Richard Stone.
Marble statues of children, by Simon Nixon, represent the Four Seasons and stand on pedestals on the lower flight of stairs. The whole Staircase Hall is sheathed in marble of ten different colours and emblems of the leopard are showcased as this is the hallmark for London.
The Livery Hall
This is the main hall and is used primarily for entertaining (holding up to 250 guest for a sti-down dinner).
On entering, you take a breath as the four matching and stunning chandeliers hang majestically infront of you. Made of English glass, supplied by Perry & Co in 1835, holds forty-eight candles, and are still lit today at special events (although they are now also electrified). The difficulties in the design and creation of the chandeliers caused the postponement of the original opening date of the Hall.
The Front Rooms were severely damaged in the bombing of the night of 16-17th April 1941 and had to be lovingly re-restored.
The Court Room
In 1830, Philip Hardwick proposed to the Wardens that he would re-install the Seventeenth Century oak panelling and plaster ceiling from the former Court Room that had been damaged by the Great Fire of London.
The mahogany furniture designed by Hardwick (and made by W. & C. Wilkinson) is dominated by the leather-topped table in the centre where all Wardens meet. Only the Prime Warden presides at the head of the table, flanked by his advisors and with the Court of Assistants on either side.
It is in this room the intending freemen sign their oath of loyalty and receive the Freedom of the Company form the Wardens.
The Drawing Room
The most striking feature is that of the carpet with the Company’s coat of arms in the centre. It was woven in 1902 as an exact replica of Hardwick’s original design. It consists of a half-million knots of forty-six shades of wool and weighs about 12 cwt. It survived the bombing, having been rolled up at the time.
The Goldsmiths’ Hall coat of arms depicts unicorns which represent purity with its moto:
Justitia Virtutum Regina meaning Justice is the Queen of Virtue.
The Luncheon Room
This room is not usually open to the public. It was formerly the Tea Room in Hardwick’s original scheme and, following the remodelling of the Main staircase in the 1870s, housed large portraits of members of the Royal Family.
After the Second World War, the rearrangement of the Front Rooms changed its purpose and is principally used for lunches nowadays.
The Goldsmiths’ Hall also houses the Assay Office, the Library and other staff accommodation necessary for the running of the a Livery Company still actively supporting its own trade.
Today, there are 600 Freemans of The Goldsmiths’ Company.
An apprenticeship used to take between 7 to 10 years and a ‘masterpiece’ had to be created and presented at the end in order to become a Freeman and given the allowance to trade. No women were allowed, unless a widow of a Freeman or apprentice as this deemed a continuation of the Freeman’s work.
The Goldsmiths’ Company is traditionally associated with educational activities and has always set aside charitable funds for these purposes. Since 1564, when it started assisting poor scholars to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the Company’s’ support for education has continued and the Prime Warden together with his Wardens preside over all decisions for the Company, including all their charitable ventures.