Class differences within the Gilds

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Class differences within the Gilds

This type of craft gild was certainly the most common, since most industries were small in scale and their technical processes simple - simple enough, at all events, for one master craftsman to perform them all and market the finished product himself.

If the demand for the commodity was fairly stable, it was easy for the gild to regulate the admissions to it, and to make sure that every industrious apprentice stood a fair chance of becoming a small master in the end.

But for certain goods,' particularly woollen cloths, the conditions of production and sale were different.

Many successive processes entered into their making, and they might be produced for a large market.

In these cases the crafts which controlled the separate processes were apt to lose much of their independence, and to come under the control of those dealing with the finishing process or with the sale of the finished goods themselves.

This was happening in London as early as the thirteenth century; the most striking example is that of saddlery.

In this industry four gilds took part: Joiners, Painters, Lorimers and Saddlers.

The saddlers succeeded in gaining a monopoly of the products of the other gilds, who gradually became subordinated and came in effect to depend on a wage paid them by the saddlers, who disposed of the finished goods to the public.

Elsewhere, in a similar way, the richer masters tended to drop out of actual manufacturing and to become middlemen pure and simple.

Out of this process there grew up the great London Livery Companies - Mercers, Merchant Taylors, Haberdashers, and the like - and in these companies a clear class distinction grew up between the Livery, consisting of those capitalists who could afford to wear the uniform and pay for the feasts and pageants, and the Yeomanry, consisting of small masters who sold not to the public but to the Livery.

This state of affairs was not reached without continuous struggles and efforts on the part of each side to gain control of the city government; but in the long run the rich merchant fraternity was successful.

Even where this did not happen, the gilds often made admission to their ranks so difficult that many journeymen found it impossible to pay the huge fees demanded, and a class of permanent wage-earners grew up, who organized into unions and even struck for higher wages and better conditions of work.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to give dates for this development.; it was happening in London as early as 1850, but London was in every way far in advance of the country as a whole, besides being three times as large as the next city.

French and German towns, indeed, saw the growth of such an urban proletariat in the thirteenth century; on the other hand, craft gilds of the conventional type existed side by side with the newer ones in most English towns as late as the sixteenth century, and some towns, such as Cambridge, had only a gild merchant to the end.


More information on - Labour Representation In Parliament.

Smallness and Insularity of the Towns

All these towns, even London, were tiny places compared with ours to-day, and were much smaller than the great trading towns of the Continent. The population of the towns listed on a Poll Tax Roll for 1881 has been calculated. London at that time is thought to have had between 35,000 and 40,000 inhabitants. York and Bristol come next, with rather more than 10,000. Six towns (Plymouth, Salisbury, Norwich, Lincoln, Coventry, Lynn) had between 5,000 and 8,000; eleven (Colchester, Beverley, Newcastle, Canterbury, Bury St. Edmunds, Oxford, Gloucester, Leicester, Shrewsbury, Yarmouth, Hereford) between... see: Smallness and Insularity of the Towns


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