Merchants of the City: Situating the London Estate of the Drapers’ Company, c. 1540-1640

Milne, S. 2016. Merchants of the City: Situating the London Estate of the Drapers’ Company, c. 1540-1640. PhD thesis University of Westminster Architecture

TitleMerchants of the City: Situating the London Estate of the Drapers’ Company, c. 1540-1640
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsMilne, S.

Through a case study of the Drapers’ Company, this thesis examines the role London’s livery companies played in the built environment of the early modern City.1 Broadly, it is concerned with tracing institutional topographies of the urban environment and examining the city’s development in relation to these systems of governance. Specifically, it investigates the
Drapers as administrators, landlords and landowners in a critical period of livery company history. Much of the extant literature on the London guilds sidelines their significant role in the spatial processes of the post-Reformation city and fails to engage with their extensive property records. However, my research situates the companies as increasingly active agents in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century built environment.

Pushing against the ‘Elizabethan silence’ of this period as perceived by architectural historians, I demonstrate that the accelerated acquisition of buildings, anxiety about their condition and canny negotiations with tenants for rebuildings reveal a Company proactively seeking to maintain corporate honour and profit through their valuable urban estate. At the same time, it explores how this transition, and the erosion of their original base of authority in the trade of drapery, was expressed or suppressed in corporate spaces such as the
Company Hall. The thesis therefore contributes to debates surrounding the survival of London’s guilds in the face of substantive internal change by writing the livery companies back into the story of city space.

Notably, the starting point for the research was an unusual book of accounts relating to thirty-six dinners held in the sixteenth century Hall. The ‘Dinner Book’ served as an unconventional entry point into an exploration of over 300 diverse documents in the Drapers’ Archive. Taking such a holistic approach to the Archive, the study is more widely about what can be achieved in utilising the records of London's livery companies as a source for urban architectural histories as it is about the guilds' role as co-producers of city space. In giving voice to the architecture of the early modern city and its inhabitants, it challenges architectural historians in particular to re-assess their view of appropriate methodologies and legitimate evidence in relation to the urban environment.


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