The area around St Paul’s Cathedral was once the heart of London’s book trade, hidden away behind a rather bland looking office block lies the Stationer’s Hall, home to The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers.

Earlier this week myself and a few others from #citylis and #citypublishing were fortunate enough to be given a tour of the hall by David Pearson Director of Culture, Heritage and Libraries for the City of London.

David , who is also a liveryman of the company gave us an overview of the history of the Stationers Company and Stationers Hall. The Stationers Company as it is commonly known is the City of London Livery Company for printing, publishing and broadcasting. It can trace its origins back to the early 15th century, when the Guild of Stationers was formed in 1403. In 1557 the Company was  granted its Royal Charter by Queen Mary and after two years, they were permitted to wear the the Company’s distinctive blue and yellow livery. The name stationers comes from the fixed (stationary) location of the book sellers who worked near St Paul’s.

A portrait of Queen Mary of England
A portrait of Queen Mary of England – who awarded the Company its Royal Charter

A form of trades union and quality assurance body the Livery Company of the Stationers, was involved in the earliest forms of Copyright  Law and Legal deposit. The first Copyright Act of 1709 known as the Act of Anne or an “Act for the Encouragement of Learning by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies. During the Times Therein Mentioned”  granted a Copyright to any authors who’s works were entered into the Stationers’Register 1. This practice continued through to the early 20th Century when the 1911 Copyright Act was passed.

The tour began in what is known as the Crush Landing, a small space dominated by the main stairs and used for drinks receptions prior to a main event. Portraits of former members who have served as Lord Mayors hang on the walls and a small model of the Company’s barge used on Lord Mayor’s day sits on the first stage of the landing.

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A model of the barge of the Stationers

Moving up the stairs we pass into the Stockroom. It was from here that the Company would administer the English Stock, a bundle of titles, such as almanacs, the Company held the publishing rights to. The most popular of these was ‘Old Moore’ and the stockholders were prominent members of the Company. As well as generating a profit for the Company the sales of Stock were also used to provide pensions for poor and needy members.2

The room itself is decorated with dark wood paneling that dates to the 17th Century, while the shields were carried by former liveryman are said to have been carried in the 1749 Lord Mayor’s procession. The ceiling dates to a later renovation and above the fireplace is the small portrait of Queen Mary shown above. Carved books are featured in decoration above the doorways and the fireplace and an old printing press are featured as reminders of the link between publishing and the Stationers.

From the Stockroom we pass through to the great Hall a magnificent room decorated with Stained Glass windows, a beautiful ceiling and more dark wood paneling.

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The Stationers Hall

The Hall itself was constructed between 1670 and 1673 on the site of the earlier hall which was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. The pennants that hang from the walls are of masters who held the office of Lord Mayor. At the far end of the hall is a wooden screen topped by decorations and a gallery which we were able to access via a small staircase through the doorway. From atop the gallery you can get an amazing view of the large stained glass window inserted into the north-wall.

Painted glass window depicting the King visiting the printers
Painted glass window depicting the King visiting the printers – courtesy of @book_turner

The hall was renovated in the early 1800s and the stained glass windows and stone facade of the hall all date from this time. Each window depicts figures and scenes from history of printing including Shakespeare, William Caxton, William Tynedale, St Cecilia and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who served Henry VIII, Edward and Mary.

 

David said that in 1611 John Norton made a bequest that every Shrove Tuesday all members attend the hall and are provided with cake and ale followed by a service at St Pauls a tradition that carries on today. The ceiling carries the Latin inscription  verbum domini manet in aeternum – the word of the Lord endures forever – the motto of the Lutheran reformation.3

From the Hall we passed through a small anteroom into the elegant looking Court Room. It is here that the small group of Liverymen that comprise the Court decide the affairs of the company. At present there are around 460 Liverymen, members join as Freemen and can go onto become Liverymen. Membership is made up of people who are work in or supply the paper, print, publishing, broadcasting or online media industries, including Libraries.

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Ceiling detail in the Hall features the Latin motto Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum

The Court Room decoration dates to a refurbishment of 1757 and features an overmantel and gilt ceiling ornamentation in Rocco style. At the far end of the room the Court was in session so we couldn’t venture too far into the room, although I managed to snap a picture of the beautifully illuminated charter which dates from 1687 and features a portrait of Charles II.


Here again you will notice the nods to printing in the carved books on either side of the room.

This marked the end of the tour and we gradually made our way back through the rooms taking a few more pictures along the way before returning to the small courtyard where we started our tour.

Many thanks to Lyn Robinson and David for arranging the tour and to Lyn and @book_turner for the use of their tweets. A fascinating glimpse into a building with a unique role in the history of printing and publishing. For more information about the Hall and Company visit stationers.org and Noel Osborne’s The Stationers’ Company and Copyright: a brief introdcution

References

  1. J.C.T. Oates, Cambridge University Library: a historical sketch
    Cambridge: Cambridge University Library, 1975 available at http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/history/4.html
  2. Leaflet provided for the tour
  3. List of Latin Phrases wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Latin_phrases_(V)

 

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