Sunday, September 19, 2010

Worshipful Company of Scriveners - 400 years of revenge? - legal documents [bordereaux] - approving crests - mediaeval regulations governing the west

Order of Precedence: 44th

The Worshipful Company of Scriveners
Littera Scripta Manet (Written Word Remains)

The Scriveners' Company
Coat of arms

The Worshipful Company of Scriveners is 44th in the order of precedence of the Livery Companies of the City of London, with first ordinances granted in 1373. As the name implies the Scriveners have always been writers and they were originally known as Writers of the Court Letter [Crown agents], as opposed to members of the Stationers' Company, who are derived from the Writers of the Text Letter [Marlowe's Dr. Faustus]. The distinction is essentially between those who wrote confidential documents such as wills, charters and legal documents [bordereaux], and those who wrote other books - particularly, in the early years, church service books.

In the case of the Scriveners the legal connection is now represented in particular by the Scrivener Notaries who have traditionally practised in the City of London and who are obliged to become members of the Company on qualification. Scrivener Notaries hold 14 out of the 27 places on the Court of Assistants, the Company's ruling body.

Nowadays members of the Scriveners' Company come from a wide range of professional backgrounds and include solicitors, barristers, genealogists, financial advisers, accountants, patent attorneys, teachers, civil servants and many others.

The Company's principal activities are a mixture of social, professional, charitable and civic functions. The Company maintains a charitable fund, from which annual grants are made, including a donation to the Lord Mayor's charities, a number of school bursaries and grants for institutions associated with the Company's traditional links with heraldry and the College of Arms [they design or approve or register the message in the crests] as well as support for the Welfare Funds of our two services affiliations - HMS Portland.

The ship was accepted into service by the Royal Navy on 15 December 2000 and was commissioned on 3 May the following year. Present at the commissioning ceremony was HMS Portland's sponsor Lady Brigstoke, wife of Admiral Sir John Brigstoke, a former Second Sea Lord HMS Portland assisted in the search for men lost due to a capsized yacht on 3 February 2007.

She deployed to the Caribbean for 7 months in 2007, intercepting 3.5 tonnes of coccaine in cooperation with a United States Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) and conducting disaster relief in Belize following Hurricane Dean. In April 2008, Portland visited Liverpool with HMS Mersey and berthed at the cruise liner terminal at Princes Dock She has recently returned from anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean pirate zones. In late April 2010, HMS Portland will relieve HMS York on the Atlantic Patrol Task (South).] and LXX Squadron at RAF Lyneham [RAF Lyneham is also renowned for being the "gateway" between the United Kingdom and Afghanistan; the base is also where repatriation of British personnel killed in Afghanistan takes place. The bodies are transported through the nearby village of Wooton Bassett, with crowds lining the streets to pay tribute the fallen. Royal Air Force Lyneham is scheduled to close in 2012 with the majority of its personnel and other assets moving to Royal Air Force Brize Norton. The base motto is: Support - Save - Supply.]


Social activities include a variety of lunches, receptions and visits to places of interest. The latter have included the Bell Foundry in Whitechapel, Sir John Soane's Museum at Lincoln's Inn Fields and a visit to the Freemasons' Hall. Outings further afield have included Oporto and Lincoln, while a visit to St Petersburg is scheduled for May 2010.

The Company's Spring and Autumn Dinners in April and October are enjoyable formal occasions, as is the annual luncheon at Mansion House, at which the Lord Mayor is presented with the Scriveners' Quil Pen with which he signed himself into office.

The mediaeval regulations and ordinances for the governance of the Scriveners Company (as for all other Livery Companies) were to ensure the integrity in business, and the competence in practice, of those engaged in the craft thus strengthening their position and enhancing the confidence of members of the public using their services. Notaries appear as members of the Company from 1392 onwards, when it issued new ordinances to coincide with the appointment by the Archbishop of Canterbury as Papal Legate of laymen as papal and imperial notaries.

The early history of the Company was mainly concerned with its efforts to establish control over the practice of all those writing legal documents in London, especially conveyances of real property. On 12 January 1498 there was a further major revision of the ordinances, to regulate the Company's corporate and social life and, equally importantly, to require every apprentice to be tested before the Wardens to ensure satisfactory knowledge of grammar - an essential professional attribute. From 1558 onwards members of the Company, still small in numbers but increasing in wealth, were (again like all other Livery Companies) compelled by the Crown to contribute to loans to recoup the costs of the war which had resulted in England's loss of Calais. An account book of 1565 (the only document to survive the burning of Scriveners' Hall in 1666 apart from the Company's Common Paper 1357 – 1628, a compendium of its corporate annual activities and enrollments now preserved in the Guildhall Library Department of Manuscripts), shows that at this time the Company was paid annual Quarterage not only by its own Freemen and Liverymen but also by members of other Livery Companies. and by Freemen of the City of London, practising as scriveners. Such persons acknowledged the authority of the Master, Wardens and Court of the Scriveners Company over "the Art or Mistery of Scriveners", even though not themselves members of the Company.

By 12 March 1590 members of the Company were refusing to meet its quota to pay for armour, weapons, gunpowder and wheat for Her Majesty (Elizabeth I)'s service, and the Master and Wardens attended the Court of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen and were authorised to commit any Scrivener refusing to contribute, to a debtors' prison [400 years of revenge?].

A new era opened with the securing by the "Master Wardens and Assistants of the Society of Scriveners of London" of a Royal Charter of Incorporation from King James I on 28 January 1617. This. and the new ordinances made under its authority in 1635. greatly increased the Company's status (but probably - firm evidence is lacking - greatly depleted its finances). On 11 November 1634 the Company received a grant of arms, confirming the arms in use since circa 1530.

Detail from the Ordinances of 1635

Copy of grant of arms and supporters originally granted 11 November 1634

In keeping with the newly-chartered Company's growing importance. on 10 June 1628 it acquired as its Hall Bacon House, off Oat Lane in Aldersgate Ward. This Hall was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and was rebuilt by the Company and again in use by 1671 - the peak of the Scriveners' fortunes and the year in which Sir Robert Clayton became Master (he was Lord Mayor in 1680): many freemen took up their livery; and the Upper Warden, George Perryer presented the magnificent silver-headed staff for the Beadle that is still used on formal occasions.



Lord Mayor of London (2010)

Extract from the Deeds of Scriveners' Hall

In 1665 occurs the first record of the admission of women to the Company. Women were admitted fairly regularly until the Victorian age, and again more recently: today the Scriveners Company has as many women members proportionately to its size as any Livery Company. In the same year it is recorded that "Attornies in the Courts of Law and Solicitors in the Courts of Equity... have taken upon them to exercise the proper Art or Mistery of Scriveners as well within the City of London. as elsewhere, within the Limits and Jurisdiction of the Company's Charter and By-Laws,..." From the granting of the Royal Charter. the Master, Wardens and six Court Assistants regularly made Visitations throughout the Company's Jurisdiction covering the City of London. Liberties of Westminster, Borough of Southwark and the Circuit of three miles from the City boundary. These Visitations were to inspect the quality of the documents being written by all scriveners, whether members of the Company or not. Before 1700. the Company is reported to have had over 200 Free Scrivener members (i.e. Freemen and Liverymen).

Members' Rolls

On 13 May 1703 the Company had for reasons of financial necessity to sell its Hall, disposing of it to the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers. From this time also. the Company's Visitations ceased.

During the Seventeenth Century the Scriveners, having established control of conveyancing in London (though not elsewhere), gradually evolved to deal primarily with land agency and the confidential negotiation of loans as “Money Scriveners", while their original functions were increasingly usurped by attorneys whom the Company was unable to compel to become members. Intense struggles took place between the evolving professions. From the Act of Parliament of 1729 "for the better Regulation of Attorneys and Solicitors", legislation progressively strengthened the solicitors and constrained the scriveners.

As London's trade and commerce grew in value and volume in the Eighteenth Century, so did the demand for legal services, giving increased opportunities for attorneys and solicitors to break in upon the Scriveners' traditional responsibilities. Between 1729 and I 748 the number of Apprentices and Freemen of the Company fell from 50 to 20. In 1748 the Court appointed a Committee to report on the situation, and in 1749 The Case of the Free Scriveners was printed and presented to the Court. This summarised the Company's constituted authority, and recommended that all those practising as scriveners be required to become Freemen of both the Company and City, in accordance with the Custom of London and the Statute of Apprentices of 1563: and that the Court petition the Lord Mayor and Court of Common Council to take action on the Company's behalf to enforce the penalties provided against offenders in these respects. Attention was drawn to the more rigorous training and qualification of Scriveners' Apprentices than of attorneys and solicitors, whose encroachments on the Scriveners' business were feared likely "to sap and destroy the very Being of the Company itself'. The protection of the public, particularly in respect of title to property. was assured by the regulation of Scriveners by the Company, which was compared in this connection with the similar functions of the Companies of Surgeons, Apothecaries, Musicians and Innholders. In 1749 the Society of Gentlemen Practitioners (the forerunners of the Law Society) secured the renewal of the 1729 Act and thus effectively achieved supremacy over the Scriveners Company.

The Case of the Free Scriveners

In 1801 the Scriveners Company secured the Public Notaries Act. compelling all persons applying to the Archbishop of Canterbury for faculties to become notaries within the jurisdiction of the Company to become members of the Company before applying to the Court of Faculties (set up under an Act of Henry VIII to administer the faculty-granting and other like powers of the Archbishop). This gave the Company responsibility for ensuring that such persons were properly qualified. The Company's professional activities were effectively limited to regulating the London Scrivener Notaries in 1804; when the preparation of deeds by non-professional persons was prohibited by statute, and membership of the Scriveners Company was not included in the list of those authorised to draw up conveyances for payment contained in the Stamp Act of that year

The Company produced its second Lord Mayor. Sir James Shaw, in 1805. He was famous for being upheld by King George III in a dispute with the Prince Regent, over whom he rightly claimed precedence in the City as Lord Mayor of London.

Apart from the two Scrivener Lord Mayors of London. the best-known Scrivener is probably John (Jack) Ellis (1698 - 1791). four times Master and an author of some note in his day, of whom Dr Samuel Johnson said: “the most literary conversation that I ever enjoyed. was at the table of Jack Ellis, a money-scrivener behind the Royal Exchange, with whom I at one period used to dine generally once a week.". Other members of the Company with literary connections were Francis Kyd: a Warden in 1580, whose son Thomas Kyd (1558 - 1594) wrote The Spanish Tragedy (from which T. S. Eliot quoted in the closing lines of The Waste Land (1922)); John Milton (1563 - 1647), Court Assistant and composer, the father of the poet; and Philip Gray. scrivener of Cornhill, father of another poet, Thomas Gray (Elegy in a Country Churchyard). Jeremy Bentham. the Utilitarian philosopher (1748 - 1832), was the son of the second of the two Jeremy (Jeremiah) Benthams to be Clerk of the Company (1753 - 1792 ).

Jeremy Bentham - Clerk of the Company

The Scriveners Company responded to the Royal Commission into the Livery Companies of 1880 with a restrained but firm defence of their discharge of their chartered responsibilities and their stewardship of their limited funds. The deeply differing reports presented by the majority and minority of the Commissioners in 1884 led to no government action being taken to expropriate the property and income of the Scriveners or any other Livery Company.

In the First World War the Scriveners Company, as an ancient legal organization, added its name to those of other legal bodies in support of a public appeal for help for Belgian lawyers [EU] distressed in consequence of the invasion of their country. Today the Company holds itself in readiness for whatever other changes may proceed from Brussels and the European Union.

To mark the Company's Sexcentenary in 1973, a Badge was added to its armorial insignia by grant of the College of Arms, and its charitable funds were consolidated into a single Sexcentenary Charity Fund. Recently-established traditions of which the Scriveners Company is especially proud are the presentation of ceremonial quill pens to the Sovereign on Coronation. and to the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs of London annually following their installation.

The Access to Justice Act 1999 removed the exclusive jurisdiction of the Scriveners Company over Notaries wishing to practise within the City of London. although the company continues to examine, admit and regulate Scrivener Notaries.

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