Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Wards of Old London: Bassishaw - Weaving and Policing

Following the course of the northern wall of the Roman and Medieval city in an easterly direction, a visitor to London passes from Cripplegate Ward Within, briefly, into Bassishaw Ward (formerly Basinghall Ward). "Briefly," because it is the smallest ward of the city. Writing in 1598, the chronicler, John Stow, describes it as "a small thing," which:

" ... consisteth of one street called Basinghall Street, of Basing Hall, the most principal house whereof the ward taketh name."

Bassishaw Ward in 1754, by Benjamin Cole (image is in the Public Domain).

This was a private residence, standing on land that had been granted by King Henry III to a certain Adam de Basing in the Thirteenth Century. Nearby was the hall of the Worshipful Company of Weavers, of which Stow writes:

" ... Henry II, in the 31st of his reign, made a confirmation to the weavers that had a gild or fraternity in London, wherein it appeareth that the said weavers made woollen cloth, and that they had the correction thereof; but amongst other articles in that patent, it was decreed, that if any man made cloth of Spanish wool, mixed with English wool, the portgrave, or principal magistrate of London, ought to burn it."

It is likely that many of the weavers operated in the area, just as members of the other guilds had their workshops located around their halls. The Worshipful Company of Weavers, however, like most of the guilds, was open only to men. In contrast to carpentry or ironmongery, weaving had long been recognised as an occupation in which respectable women could engage. Even the paragon of feminine virtue, the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, was depicted weaving.

(Image is in the Public Domain).
The Holy Family at work, from the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves (c1440), Morgan Library and Museum, New York (image is in the Public Domain).

In time, the company lost ground to other guilds, such as the Drapers, Haberdashers and Mercers, as weavers apprenticed their sons into these trades, leaving their wives and daughters to do the weaving behind the scenes. By the end of the Fourteenth Century, the male and female weavers of London were no longer able to keep up with the demand for cloth, and Richard ("Dick") Whittington, as Lord Mayor, purchased another property in the ward, Bakewell (or Blackwell) Hall, as a cloth market in which "aliens" (foreigners, some of them Flemish, but also Englishmen who were not freemen of a City Guild) could sell woollen cloth. This market-hall was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666, and remained in use until its demolition in 1820, by which time most woollen cloth was produced in the mechanised mills of the industrialising north of England.

Blackwell Hall in 1812, view from Basinghall Street, Walter Thornbury. British Library, HMNTS 010349.I.1 (image is in the Public Domain).

Bassishaw Ward has long been associated with the policing of London. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Early Modern era, the city was policed by the Day and Night Watches operating out of the Guildhall, which had a gate onto Basinghall Street. In 1839, the City of London Police was established (it was then, and remains to this day, separate from the Metropolitan Police Service, which operates across Greater London. The City Police was based, initially in the Guildhall, subsequently in Old Jewry, and now in Wood Street, still within the ward.

City of London Police at Bank Junction in the early 1920s. Photo: Leonard Bentley (licensed under CCA).
The City of London Police tug-of-war team in 1908. At the London Olympics that year, held at the White City Stadium, the UK Team having beaten all its international rivals, the gold medal was won by the City Police, beating Liverpool Police into second, and the Metropolitan Police, K-Division into third place (image is in the Public Domain). 
City of London Policewomen. Women were first recruited in 1949, having served as auxiliaries in both World Wars. This uniform (no longer in use) was designed in 1969 by Royal dress-maker, Sir Norman Hartnell. Photo: Leonard Bentley (licensed under CCA). 

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.

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