Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Drapers' Livery Company

Drapers' Hall set for the Election Dinner

The Livery Companies of the City of London are the descendents of the ancient guilds which controlled England’s trades in the middle ages, and which now administer large charitable funds, as well as supporting schools, universities and almshouses. Their wealth is based mainly on bequests and gifts of land and buildings acquired over the centuries. Few of them have any links with their original trades, though some, like the Goldsmiths, still do.

Of the 108 livery companies, the oldest make up ‘the Great Twelve’, and the Drapers - which once controlled the woollen cloth trade - ranks at No 3 in an order of precedence settled as long ago as 1515 (the Mercers - the general merchants - and the Grocers are No 1 and 2). The Queen is a Freeman of the Drapers' Company, as is Prince Charles. The Companies are run by the Clerk, usually a distinguished retired serviceman or businessman, while a senior Liveryman is elected Master for a year.

Many of the companies have splendid halls with wonderful collections of paintings and silver, and hold magnificent dinners for their members (called Liveryman) and for worthies such as the Lord Mayor, the heads of the armed forces and visiting dignitaries. But their principal purpose is donating to and supporting charitable causes - in particular education and the relief of poverty. The Drapers' Company looks after almost 200 almshouse residents in three peaceful locations and supports several schools and a university (e.g. Bancroft's School and Queen's Mary's, University of London) and in 2012 set up the Drapers' Academy in Harold Hill.

Lawfords have been liverymen of the Drapers' Company since the 1700s, when Valentine Lawford (1709-1783) became the first Lawford Master in 1775. Neither my father Patrick nor his father Capt VA Lawford were liverymen and it was not until I was looking through Uncle Valentine's papers in the 1980s that I noticed the connection, and was admitted to the Livery in 1988. By then, no less than six Lawfords had become Master, as well as others who were married to Lawford women. My great - great-great grandfather Samuel Lawford (1749-1835) and great-great grandfather, also Samuel Lawford (1777-1864), were Masters in 1809 and 1850 respectively.  In addition, John Lawford (of Downhills, Tottenham) became Junior Warden in 1871 but died before he could become Master. The full list is:-

Valentine Lawford 1775
Samuel Lawford 1809
Samuel Lawford 1850
Robert Wrench 1882
George Lawford 1885
Herbert Lawford 1925
Evelyn Lawford 1957
John Stitt 1990

A portrait of Edward Lawford (1787 - 1864) by Pickersgill
In addition, Edward Lawford (1787 - 1864) was appointed Clerk and Solicitor to the Company in 1813, at the same time as being solicitor to the East India Company. His son Henry was also Solicitor to the Company. Edward's son-in-law Robert Wrench became Master in 1882, while John Lawford's (Edward's brother's) son George became Master in 1885. His son Godfey took over as Clerk to the Company in about 1900 while his son Evelyn became Master in 1958. Evelyn's daughter Angela married John Stitt, who was Master in 1990. My cousin Nigel Lawford has prepared a note on the Lawford links with the Company from 1725 to the 1950s which can be seen here

The Lawford connection with the Drapers' Company is illustrated by the family's coat of arms appearing on the ceiling of the Court Dining Room at Drapers' Hall, which is widely regarded as one of the finest livery halls in the City.

The Court Dining Room at Drapers' Hall. The Lawford crest is third from the left, immediately over the middle window.

Return to the Archive Index
Return to Lawford Family History
Return to Lawford Links with the Drapers' Company 1725 - 1950s
Return to Lawford Lunch at Drapers' Hall 2014
Return to Drapers' Academy 


  1. The influence of the livery companies was far reaching and can crop up in odd places. Keep your eyes open for any pubs called the Three Crowns or the Ram, both of which appear on the Drapers arms. Pubs often affiliated themselves with the local trade, taking an appropriate name eg, Carpenters, Masons or Shipwrights Arms. Some pubs took inspiration from the livery company's coat of arms - hence the two drapers pubs, wool being an important commodity at the time.

    Elaine Saunders
    Author - A Book About Pub Names

  2. Oh, lucky you to have such notable ancestors! Since my last name is Campbell, I try to avoid Scotland as much as possible. Such nasty comments!

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