A History of the Bakers, as seen through its Silver

After the Bakers' Livery AGM on 29 February 2016 we were honoured to have a very distinguished speaker, Philippa Glanville OBE, a renowned expert on silver.  She spoke about the Bakers' Company collection and chose a few specialist items that are usually on display behind the Master's chair in the Livery Hall, where we often dine. The items were all described in detail, passed round; then thankfully passed back!

Philippa told us that a wheat and oat motif, denoting bread’s origin, was used for the Company’s silver from the 16C onwards. The first example was a delightful, early 17C gilded wine cup with Company arms, dating from 1606, during the reign of King James 1st.

Silver was popular because it embodies memory and tradition as well as artistic and monetary value. Every year a livery's silver would be checked and weighed; it has a good paper trail.

In the 17th century we had lots of silver, including cutlery, which was usual among livery companies. When our livery gave out fines for malpractice these would often be paid in silver, and there is an example below. But in the mid 17C both the Crown and Parliament demanded silver be handed over. Some livery companies obeyed, others hid part of their collections and others, very wisely, buried it!

Among our possessions is a Charles II porringer, sometimes called a posset cup. Most Londoners had no access to an oven, so the rising civil servant, Samuel Pepys, was typical in having to take his roasts and stews to the baker to cook. A quick warm snack, prepared at home over an open fire, was consumed from a posset cup full of oatmeal, sugar and eggs - all nourishing. Our own posset is a court cup which would have contained something hot, like spiced ale. So at Company meetings and assizes, bread and cheese would be served as accompaniment.

After the Great Fire in 1666 many liveries re-fashioned their silver into useful everyday items such as salt and pepper holders and cutlery. But already by the 1670s fashions were changing and the Company possesses a lovely tankard covered in pictures of exotic birds. This was the age of Great East India Trading Company when it became fashionable to use Persian style decorations and Chinoiserie - Chinese motifs and techniques.

The Lord Mayor’s steward gave the Chinoiserie Peacock Tankard “in compensation of his refractoriness”. Whilst steward in 1678 he was organising the feast for the Lord Mayor’s day but omitted a few essentials. He forgot to have the meat sent in until 10am and had no oven fire ready and no cook. He was roundly abused for his “unparalleled contempt for the Company” and two years later made the “gift”.

From the late 17C all bakers had to be members of a bakers' livery and unlike now there was one in every major city. Bakers had to get a stamp before they were granted membership. After the Great Fire there was much silver on sale in London shops compared to France and Italy. Businesses wanted money to re-build and expand.

Also among our esteemed collection we viewed a large tankard from 1714 given by Gerald Smith, and two late 17C salvers, one of them a 1693 Wm and Mary salver on which sweet foods and fruits would have been served. We also have a cup presented to us by the Essex guild.

Finally, among our beautiful collection is a large silver bowl, which used to contain lavender or rose water for dipping and cleansing fingers. Several of the items described above are used at our livery dinners and their beauty and heritage lives on.