The Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers
A cast of the City’s first Common Seal c1220.  It shows the figure of St Paul standing over the City skyline.
Silver die of the City of London’s second Mayoral Seal, made in 1381 and used by every mayor of London until it was replaced by a new version in 1913
Frame of a merchant’s purse. It was de rigueur for every merchant to wear such a purse on their hip
Candles at Cathedral of Aachen
Candlemas - The Presentation in the Temple – Carving of circa 1530
Simon Burton memorial

A chronology of the Wax Chandlers history

C1

The Romans build a road running east-west across the southern part of the Hall site.

C12

A royal decree was promulgated, setting out rules governing German merchants trading in beeswax in London.

c.1180

First mention of ‘Kandelwickestrate’, which is the eastern part of the modern Cannon Street. The name (candle market street) probably indicates that chandlers’ goods (oil, tallow, candles and torches) were sold rather than made here.

1247

Henry III gave 1000lbs of beeswax to Westminster Abbey for the making of a giant taper for Candlemas.

The needs of the Royal Household, ecclesiastical establishments and of the great families of England, were met by their own wax chandlers. The royal Wardrobe, the medieval equivalent of a Ministry of Supply, was set up in the first half of the C13. The royal Chandlery, which operated under the direction of the Serjeant-Chandler, was a division of the Wardrobe.

1291-2

John de Benstede was apprenticed to John le Cirger (‘wax candle maker’, or sometimes ‘wax candle bearer’) of ‘Kandelwickstrete’,the first apprenticeship recorded in the trade.

1311

John de Benstede and two others admitted to the Freedom of the City. At this period the practice of the craft seems to have been restricted to men who had served apprenticeships.

1319

Tax returns list eleven City wax chandlers, who would have been independent shop keeping craftsmen.

1343

Four wax chandlers were sworn before the Mayor to investigate the adulteration of beeswax with animal fat. The outcome was a number of tallow chandlers and ropers were brought before the Mayor and Aldermen for selling faulty goods. However, most of them were widows and they were let off the charges. Shop keeping was regarded as a particularly suitable occupation for women, and the City generally treated widows leniently.

1348-1350.

Most of London’s wax chandlers died in the Black Death; theirs was a high risk occupation, because of their involvement in embalming and funerals.

In all some 30,000 Londoners died of the plague and 40% of the population of the country was wiped out. This cataclysm brought with it a preoccupation with death and a major shift in religious practices. Funerals became increasingly elaborate and the Trental, the marathon of thirty masses for the deceased, was now popular with those who could afford it. Many thousands of pounds were spent on the great tapers and other candles which burned continually on altars, at shrines and around corpses. There was a huge increase in demand for wax chandlery which did not abate for nearly two hundred years. Old Alice Paston ordered a huge wax image of her sick son, matching his weight, for the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham (1443).

1358

The City issued ordinances regulating the making of wax chandlery following a scandal involving an influential Italian born spicer and apothecary, who was found to have made a ‘false torch’. Henceforth any London wax chandler who produced candles that were not of pure, new wax or falsified the weight was liable to imprisonment, fining or a spell in the pillory; persistent offenders were to ‘forswear the city, and all torches and such work’.

‘Two or four of the most lawful folks of the trade’ were to be appointed to present defaults to the Mayor. This does not seem to have happened.

1368

Reference is made in the will of Margery de Dytton, a wealthy London widow, to a number of domestic candelabra, both hanging and standing. The first references in London to domestic candelabra date from the years immediately following the Black Death.

1371

The earliest reference to the fraternity of wax chandlers, as such, appears in two ordinances of this year, entered in the Company’s first ordinance book, although it clearly was already functioning as a voluntary association.

An ordinance was approved whereby each member of the craft was to give a pound of new wax, every year on Holy Cross Day, to St Paul’s Cathedral, for the tapers in the candelabrum of the rood (crucifix) over the north door, called the ‘Rood of Northern’.

(The cult of the rood which arose at this time, peaking in the C15, provided another boost to the sale of wax. Every church had a great crucifix lit with ‘footlights’ for dramatic effect)

A petition to the mayor of aldermen resulted in approved ordinances which set up a formal regulatory body for wax chandlers, reporting to the Mayor and Aldermen. Walter Rede and John Pope were chosen as the first overseers of the trade, prices were set for the hire of chandlery for funerals and an order made for all candles etc. to be stamped with the maker’s mark

1376

The Wax Chandlers were amongst the mysteries (trade guilds) invited to send representatives to the Court of Common Council, which was becoming the dominant body in governance of the City.

1395

Roger Elys, a Wax Chandler, first elected an Alderman in 1377, was chosen as Sheriff.

1459

The Guild of the Holy Name of Jesus was granted a Charter by Henry VI. The Wax Chandlers were to become particularly associated with this prestigious fraternity, whose membership was dominated by City companies. Its chapel was in the crypt of St. Paul’s; remains survive under the paving round the apse of the present cathedral.

Numbers of religious guilds, parish organisations and associations of craftsmen and traders grew up in the C15, when the preoccupation with buying prayers to release the suffering souls of loved ones (and your own) from purgatory became an expensive obsession. Wealthy men might found a chantry, leaving money for priests to ‘sing for their soul’ in perpetuity. The guilds were poor mens’ co-operative chantries; members paid a reasonable ‘sub’ and a priest was hired to keep up the prayers for the whole ‘club’, their funeral expenses might be covered and some sort of cash benefits might be available for emergencies.

Many livery companies started life as off-shoots of religious guilds or focused on particular devotional acts which did not necessarily involve clergy. The Wax Chandlers formed a close association in later years with the Jesus Guild, which gave them access to priestly resources and regular prayers and masses for their members past and present. They held their election day services and their ‘obits’ or masses for departed members, on the Guild’s holy days, the Transfiguration of Christ (Aug 6) and the Name of Jesus (Aug 7).

1470

The Wax Chandlers were required to provide 21 men for the City Watch – this was one of the guilds’ regular responsibilities.

1484

The Wax Chandlers Company was incorporated by Royal Charter of Richard III on 16 February. They now had a master and two wardens, might acquire property and make their own bye-laws.

1485

The Company was granted Arms on 3 February by Clarenceaux King-of-Arms.

1488

New Ordinances were obtained from the City, including additional provisions for enforcing discipline. These were updated on several occasions during the sixteenth century.

1501

The Cock on the Hoop, a brewhouse, and other buildings in Maiden Lane (now Gresham Street) in the parish of St John Zachary were purchased by John Monk and five colleagues for £36. By 1525 these had been converted to provide a Common Hall for the Company; the present Hall, the sixth, stands on part of the site.

1502

17 members on the livery; the first indication of the size of the Company.

1507

The Statutes of the Guild of Jesus appointed ‘John Monke, Waxchaundeler’, with Mercer, William Bromewel, as Wardens under the Rector, the celebrated John Colet, Dean of St Paul’s. Thus the Guild of Jesus’s relationship with ‘the ffeliship of Wexchaundelers’ was established.

The Company paid a rent of 20s annually for the use of the Jesus Chapel and provided the ‘Jesus Light’ in the Chapel. Colet, when fouding St Paul’s School, entrusted it to the care of the Mercers’ Company, declaring ‘There was no absolute certainty in human affairs but, for his part, he found less corruption in such a body of citizens than in any order or degree of mankind’. He stipulated that only wax candles should be used in the school

1514

Company ordinances made provision for the election of ‘viewers and assistencs’ to inspect materials and products. Viewers had been appointed since 1371 but the assistants, were a new addition and the forerunners of the court which was functioning by 1530.

1516

The Court of Aldermen ordered that the order of precedence of the livery companies should be fixed as it was then. The Wax Chandlers were, thereby, established in the twentieth place in royal and civic processions. The order of precedence remains the same to this day.

1527

John Thompson, a past Master, bequeathed houses and land at Queenhithe for charitable and religious purposes. Other significant Company benefactors were William Parnell (1622), Henry Ayd (1661), John Lancashire (1740) and William Caldwell (1789).

1530-2

The earliest complete set of Company accounts date from these years. The include payments of £1 0s 4d for the hire of barge and watermen for the Lord Mayor’s procession to Westminster and £1 0s 1.5d for the swan-herd, boat hire, meat and drink for swan-upping (marking cygnets with the owners’ insignia) Today, only the Dyers and Vintners keep up this ancient custom, as the only owners of private swans on the Thames.

1533

The Company lent the City £10 for the provision of corn. During the following two centuries the livery companies took a key role in the operation of municipal welfare. Often individual members of the Company financed the provision of corn on a speculative basis. In subsequent years livery fines were used to finance ‘the corn’.

1538

Henry VIII ordered Thomas Cromwell to issue an injunction ordering that sermons were to be preached quarterly against the devotional use of candles and ‘no candles, tapers or images of wax be set before any image or picture, but only the light that commonly goeth across the church by the rood loft..’. Wax Chandlers membership slumped from 54 in 1531 to a mere 34.

The prohibition of ceremonial candles in church, which was part of the changes brought by the Protestant Reformation, dealt a severe blow to the wax chandlery business. Ordinary houses were lit by the cheaper tallow candles; the church had been the chief market for wax. The 1538 ordinance was just a hint of the more radical measures taken in the reign of Edward VI.

The ‘Rood of Northern’ the famous crucifix before which the Wax Chandlers fraternity had maintained their light since before 1371, was taken down at night for fear of disturbances and burnt.

1547

The use of candles, tapers, and images was prohibited in church. The Guild of Jesus, along with all other such guilds, was suppressed. The Company transferred its election service from St Paul’s to the church of St John Zachary, a sermon taking the place of mass.

1559

William Kendall, a Past Master, bequeathed property in Old Change, near St Paul’s, the rent income to be used for various charitable purposes.

1562

The Company entered into an agreement with the Tallow Chandlers Company for the ‘ending and avoyding’ of ‘controversies’ regarding the manufacture and sale of torches. The Wax Chandlers held a monopoly of making torches and the Tallow Chandlers Company was obliged to order their members’ requirements through the Wax Chandlers Company.

1580

Ordinance restricting the powers of the Master and Wardens to grant leases in excess of 21 years without the agreement of the whole membership; some Masters and Wardens had been granting long leases without taking proper steps to safeguard the interests of the Company.

1584

The Mayor authorised the Company to search and demand payment of ‘quarterage’ from anyone selling beeswax products.

1609

The City, coerced by James I, became involved in the ‘plantation of Ulster’, the resettlement of confiscated lands in Ireland, with English and Scottish Protestants. What is now County Londonderry was bought by the twelve great companies for £40,000. The minor companies had to contribute and part of the Haberdasher’s share was paid by the Wax Chandlers (£80), the Founders and the Turners.

1612

The Company was involved in a dispute with the Barber-Surgeons, as to whether or not Wax Chandlers had the right to practice the embalming of bodies. According to the Barber Surgeons’ Charter of 1604 wax chandlers practiced a ‘mecchaniccal trade’, which meant they should be barred from surgical practice. The Barber Surgeons won the argument..

1653

William Coleburn gave a silver, a 9” seal-top spoon as the customary fine paid by a new liveryman. It is the Company’s oldest piece of silver.

1657

The Hall was substantially rebuilt at a cost of £492 10s 0d.

1663

A new Charter was sought and granted at a cost of £126 9s. It extended the Company’s monopoly to a ten mile radius around the City, laid down procedures for elections (on the first Thursday of August), defined the composition of the Court, raised the limit on the purchase of property to £100 a year and confirmed the necessity for a seven year apprenticeship.

1664

New Ordinances were approved by Charles II’s Lord Chancellor and senior judges. These remain the operative Ordinances to the extent that they have not become obsolete or placed in abeyance by Statute or case law.

1665

The Great Plague decimated the city; the minutes read ‘a Court of Assistant was difficult to be got’.

1666

The Great Fire destroyed the Hall and the parish church: the City lost a total of 44 halls and 87 churches. The Court met at ‘the sign of Redd Cross in Little Britain’.

1668

New Hall completed.

1684

Charles II, in an attempt to bring the City under his direct control, challenged certain rights of the livery companies under a writ of Quo Warranto. The Wax Chandlers’ Charter, along with a number of others, was surrendered and a new one promised

The Company sold its land in Ireland, giving the fishing, hunting and mining rights to the Irish Society (the City’s Committee for managing the estates).

1685-6

Under the terms of the new Charter, granted by James II, his brother having died since the surrender, various members of the court were dismissed. The livery were to be approved by the Mayor and Aldermen and members forbidden to frequent ‘conventicles’ (non-conformist chapels).

The Court of Alderman restored livery company status, but restricted the size of the livery so it could not exceed twice the number of members on the Court. It also restricted membership of the livery to ‘the best and most sufficient member of...(being persons of approved and unquestionable loyalty)..’

The first member of the Pulley family was admitted to the Company. They remained active in the Wax Chandlers for over two hundred years, providing five Masters. Joseph Pulley, whose portrait by William Pickersgill hangs in the Hall, was one of the founding members of the London Stock Exchange.

1688-9

In a final attempt to save his throne and appease the City, James II tried to restore the status quo. The 1663 Wax Chandlers’ Charter was to be handed back, but the document could not be found. The validity of a contemporary transcript was confirmed by the Attorney-General in October 1689, by which time James II had been removed from the throne and replaced by William III and Mary. Under the new regime all judgements based on the quo warranto proceeding were annulled and the 1663 charter was safe.

1703

The Court bought back the leasehold interest in a house in Gutter Lane for £85 and converted the ground floor into a new Court Room. Several of the best craftsmen of the time worked on the project and the cost was such that both the Hall and the Aldersgate Street property had to be mortgaged.

1706

The Quarterage Book showed a Livery strength of 77, and a Yeomanry of 58. (The Yeomanry is mentioned as a separate class from the end of the C16. They originally represented the manufacturers as against the merchants of the livery). Of the membership, 28 were by trade, either wax chandlers or linkmakers (links were torches carried by linkboys to light the way for wealthy people walking through the streets). Their addresses illustrate the move of a large part of the Wax Chandlers’ trade to the fashionable West End. This was a major factor in the decline of the Company's control over its trade, because the benefits of membership of a Livery Company were of less interest to West End tradesmen.

1710

Excise duties of 4d per lb, equivalent to perhaps £2 today, were imposed on beeswax candles. These duties were abolished in 1830. Tax figures show that between 1715 and 1800, the national production of beeswax candles rose tenfold. However, the Wax Chandlers' Company failed to benefit from this growth.

1722

Humphrey Parsons, a Wax Chandler Liveryman and Alderman representing the Ward of Portsoken, was elected a Sheriff. He became Lord Mayor in 1730 and again in 1740. A wealthy man, he founded a Free School in Harwich.

1749

Voltaire reported that “Paris burns perhaps a thousand times more wax candles; for in London, except in the Court quarter, nothing is burnt but tallow”.

1765

Barnard Gregory was appointed Clerk. Among his descendants were three more Clerks and four Masters.

1766

The Quarterage Book shows a total membership of 90, of which only 9 were practising wax chandlers.

1784

Invention of the Argand burner, or colza lamp, using rapeseed oil. It provided the first smoke-free competitor to the beeswax candle.

1791

The Hall was reported to be "in ruinous condition" and the Court decided to demolish and rebuild. It was completed a year later at a cost of £1,429 15s. Part of the site was developed as a warehouse.

1798

The Court noted that the Company lacked influence over new developments in lighting and considered obtaining a new Charter to enable it to recover control. In quietly abandoning the proposal, it recognised that the world had moved on and the days of guild control were past.

William Allt was admitted to the Freedom by Servitude. (His son and grandson became Masters, and the family is still represented on the Livery.)

1799

Elizabeth Applegarth was admitted to the Freedom by Redemption, the last woman to become “Free of the Company” until 1981. In earlier years, women had been quite numerous within the Company, and their marginalisation reflected the way in which membership of a Livery Company was becoming increasingly a sign of social status rather than a precondition of following an occupation.

1807

James Dummelow was admitted to the Freedom by Servitude. (He, his grandson, his great-grandson and his great-great grandson became Masters.)

1819

The Apothecaries’ Company installed a small oil gas plant to make the gas to light their Hall and adjacent pharmaceuticals factory. The comparative hourly costs were assessed as follows:

  • • Oil gas ¼d per hour
  • • Argand burner with oil gas ¾d per hour
  • • Argand lamp burning spermaceti oil 3d per hour
  • • Tallow mould candles 3½d per hour
  • • Beeswax candles 14d per hour

This table shows how uncompetitive beeswax had become as a result of other developments in lighting.

1834

The Hall, which had been affected by subsidence, was repaired and refurnished under the supervision of Joseph Gwilt, the architectural theorist and translator of Vitruvius. The refurnishing marked visually a further stage in the mutation of an organization which had embraced quite a wide section of society into a more exclusive club.

1837

John Cowan, Master of the Company and a practising wax chandler in Mansion House Street, was elected Lord Mayor and made a baronet. He welcomed Queen Victoria on her first visit to the City in the year of her accession.

1843

Charles John Todd was admitted to the Freedom by Servitude. (He and his four sons all became Masters of the Company and a grandson became Master and subsequently Clerk.)

1852

The Hall was demolished and rebuilt to allow the widening of Maiden Lane to become Gresham Street. The architect, Charles Fowler, was a Liveryman and a future Master, as well as being Secretary of the Royal Institution of British Architects. His family had been associated with the Company since 1753.

1862

William Anderson Rose, an Assistant and a future Master, was elected Lord Mayor and subsequently knighted. He was, by trade, a varnish and paint manufacturer.

1878

Kendall’s Charity was the subject of protracted litigation from 1867 onwards. In 1878 a Scheme was approved which allocated the net income in accordance with a decision of the House of Lords, three-quarters being handed over to charitable bodies in London and Bexley for distribution, and one quarter retained by the Wax Chandlers, to provide, in the first instance, pensions and relief to their needy.

1884

The Wax Chandlers Company became a Foundation Donor of the City and Guilds of London Institute for technical education and research.

1907

The Master of the Wax Chandlers' was elected President ex-officio of the British Bee Keepers' Association. He later became Patron of the Association in 1921 and of the Central Association of Bee-Keepers, in 1945.

1940

The Hall was largely destroyed on the night of 29 December. However, the best silver, the chandeliers, some of the furniture and pictures, as well as the ancient documents, were saved by the efforts of the Clerk and his family.

1956

Using the granite shell of the old ground floor, work started on a new Hall, which was completed two years later. The architects were Seely & Paget, Lord Mottistone being the partner responsible for the design.

1958

The Aldridge Bequest enabled the Company to supply beeswax candles in perpetuity for the new high altar in St. Paul's Cathedral.

1965

An annual award was offered to the most successful candidate in the senior written examination of the British Bee-Keepers Association. Later initiatives in support of beekeeping include the sponsorship since 1993 of the National Honey Show.

The Company was named in the Charter of the new City University for representation on the Court of Governors.

A new set of gowns for Officers and Livery, designed by Joyce Conway-Evans of the Royal College of Art, was given to the Company by members of the Livery.

1973

The official history of the Company, “The Wax Chandlers of London” by John Dummelow, was published.

1974

Hugh Olson, a Liveryman and future Master, was elected Sheriff.

1979

The Wax Chandlers’ Charitable Trust was set up to provide a permanent income for general charitable purposes, with monies transferred from the Company.

The Court approved the admission of ladies to the Livery.

1984

The Company celebrated the Quincentenary of the granting of its Charter by Richard III. The occasion was marked by a Service of Thanksgiving in the Temple Church, an exhibition in the Hall on the Company's history, a visit by HRH The Duke of Gloucester, participation in the Lord Mayor's Show, and the installation of a stained glass window in the Livery Hall.

1992

The Charity Commission approved a new scheme for Kendall's Charity, enabling the Wax Chandlers’ Company to become responsible for the distribution of the whole of the net income.

All the other old charities were consolidated into the Wax Chandlers' Charitable Trust.

1994

The Court Room reverted to the Company's use, and was officially opened by the Lord Mayor, Sir Christopher Walford, in 1995.

2002

Gavyn Arthur, an Assistant, was elected Lord Mayor. The company participated in the Lord Mayor’s Show and commissioned a portrait.

Excavations to the south of the Hall revealed foundations thought to have been part of the development by Henry Yvele, taken over by the Company in 1501.

2003

The east wall of the Hall was refaced to a design by Foster and Partners.

2004

The Company became an Affiliate Member of the European Wax Federation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was made a Freeman and Liveryman “Honoris Causa”.

2006/7

The Hall was extensively remodelled internally under the supervision of Kim Quazi of FLACQ Architects.

2008

First lady Master appointed.

2009

First lady Clerk appointed.


Sources

This chronology was compiled from the Company’s historical records, the notes of Charles Todd and R J Percival, both Clerks of the Company, and John Dummelow’s The Wax Chandlers of London, 1973. They have been revised and updated by liveryman Jane Cox.

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