Our History

The Worshipful Company of Horners is both an ancient guild and a modern City of London Livery Company.

The original guilds, later called livery companies because of the liveries they wore, have always played a major part in the governance of the City, electing and supporting the Lord Mayor, the Sheriffs and the Corporation.

The companies were initially founded to promote the crafts and ‘misteries’ which were the backbone of commercial life of early and mediaeval London. Today they cover a much wider range of skills and professions, but still provide the foundation for the City Corporation

The craft of the Horner goes back ‘to time immemorial’, and there is no doubt that it was practised long before the Norman Conquest. The first known reference to the Company was when its ordinances were ‘corrected’ in 1284, making it one of the most ancient of livery companies. Horn is a natural plastic [keratin], which allows it to be moulded into many articles, such as beakers, utensils, combs and buttons, but its greatest use, right up to the 18th century was in being beaten into translucent sheets to be fabricated into lantern leaves and even windows. As late as 1745, the Company had rights to ‘press lantern leaves’ for the City lighting, and up to Tudor times there was an official Horner to the Crown.

In 1391 the Company was granted new ordinances which allowed it to elect its own wardens. Previously in 1362 the leather Bottlemakers were placed under the protection of the Horners, by 1383 there were only ten working in the City, and in 1476 the Bottlemakers were formally incorporated into the Company. In 1465 there was an important Statute that protected the craft, commercial rights and mysteries of the Horners. This Statute was later incorporated into the Charter granted to the Company by King Charles I on May 5th 1638. This Charter established the offices of Master and Assistants of the ‘Fellowship and Mystery’ of the Company of Horners.

Unfortunately, the subsequent centuries saw the decline of the Company and the use of horn, largely accelerated by acrimonious trade disputes and the growing availability of cheaper glass. This ‘ingenious but stinking business’ was banished to outside the eastern City boundaries. However, despite these setbacks, in 1846, a petition to Parliament resulted in the Company being granted full livery rights. As a result, by 1890, the Horners had regressed to an introvert dining club, and the hall and plate had to be sold.

Whilst the use of horn continued to decline, the twentieth century saw a considerable rise in the Company’s fortunes. Through a succession of enterprising Clerks and Masters, their numbers were allowed to rise to 100 in 1905 and then to 200 in 1925. Seven Horners have served as Lord Mayor and many others in the office of Sheriff. In 1943, recognising that the working of horn was no longer a viable industry, the Company had the great foresight to adopt its modern equivalent, the Plastics Industry. Since that time the Company has played a role, and kept pace with a significant international technological industry. Similarly, bottle production has progressed to be a major consumer of plastic materials, and bottlemaking once more fits the Horners’ portfolio.

Thus an ancient guild has transformed itself into a twenty-first century City institution, where today, its 250 or so members hail from the City, the Plastics Industry and the professions. The Company’s progressive charitable activities are focussed on supporting science education at all ages through teacher development and internet provision, and the promotion of excellence in Plastics Design and Technology. Each year, the Company also donates to charities chosen by the Master and the Lord Mayor, and allocates funds for City related charities.

Ten years ago, our Upper Warden, Mike Birell, prepared a superb presentation for the Polymer Study Tour in London  describing our History and our embracing of the plastics industry. It is as relevant today as it was then and is highly recommended. Click on the picture below to view it.

‘A Short History of the Horners’  written by FJ Fisher in 1936.

 

A history was written by J F Fisher and first published in 1936, shortly before our links with the plastics industry. Commissioned  and paid for by Liveryman George Becker, it was beautifully printed with a black and cream binding and the cream pages within had ragged edges giving the book an antique look. It even included a  transparent leaf protecting the pages of each of the various illustrations.

A complimentary copy was sent to all members of the Company with a letter suggesting that the recipient made a contribution to the Horners Charity Fund. Here is one of these letters:

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In 1990,  the book was reprinted , thanks to the Generous sponsorship of ICI, and a complimentary numbered copy was sent to all Horners. This book, with its blue cover was conventionally bound and both can sometimes be bought second hand on ebay.

 

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Our Honorary Archivist  had a look in the archives and reported as follows:

“There are two ORIGINAL versions of this letter in the Archives. The letter asks for the arrival of the History to be acknowledged and the Archives have the acknowledgements in a bundle. I quote from the letter of WH Cork, an accountant writing from his office at 19 Eastcheap (admitted in 1921 and presumably the father of our Past Master Sir Kenneth Cork):”

‘I have received, with the greatest possible pleasure, the very wonderful book which Mr George Becker has prepared. Will you kindly let me have his private address as I should very much like to send him a personal note. I do not think I have ever seen a book which has been so delightfully printed.

So far as the Charity Fund is concerned, I am naturally anxious to subscribe; can you give me an idea of the general subscription which is being sent by members as this would assist me?’

The Clerk replied, giving Becker’s address in Castlenau and saying that the gifts to the Fund ranged from ten shillings to five guineas. Bearing in mind that today’s man on £30,000 per annum would have been earning less than a thousand a year in those days, the gifts are generous.

I remark that George Becker financed the book but he did not prepare it. Poor old FJ Fisher who actually wrote the book deserves some credit, too! If it had not been for my enforced isolation due to Covid 19, I would not have had all this at my fingertip.”

HORNERS – A portrait of a Livery Company by I.M.Wilkinson

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In 2015, Honorary Liveryman Irene Wilkinson, brought our History upto date with her book,  ‘The Worshipful Company of Horners – Portrait of a Livery Company. A complimentary copy was given to every member of The Company, and copies are available @ £25 each from the Clerk.

HORNERS GIFTS TO THE ROYAL FAMILY

It’s strange how it’s the unexpected things that occur that give an insight into our long history. I came across this press cutting on eBay and was able to purchase it for a modest sum.

This intrigued me so I did some research and discovered that in the course of the year 1900, at the instance of Mr Timbrell, the Master Horner at the time,  it was decided to present Queen Victoria with a horn casket in order to fittingly commemorate the new century. On being approached upon the subject, Her Majesty graciously accepted the offer. Before, however, the presentation could be made, her lamented death occurred. It was then decided to present the casket to King Edward, VII and on March 28th, 1901, the  King’s Secretary wrote to the Clerk of the Company expressing His Majesty’s pleasure in accepting the proposed gift and the above press cutting is from the Times recording the event.

But that was not the only gift that the Horner’s Company had given to the Royal Family In 1911 this casket was presented to His Majesty King George V. It is believed to be located in Buckingham Palace.

And then a third box was presented to His Royal Highness the Duke of York KG (later King George VI)  on the occasion of his marriage in 1923 to Lady Elizabeth Boyes-Lyon; they are, of course, the parents of Queen Elizabeth II. This is a photo of the casket which is believed to be located in Clarence House.

These events are recorded in ‘A short history of the Horners’ by F.J Fisher as well being referred to in Irene Wilkinson’s book “The Worshipful Company of Horners, Portrait of a Livery Company’ which is still on sale price £25 from the Clerk.

On the occasion of their Marriage,  The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer were each presented with Shepherd’s crooks  with the handles made of horn  in the shape of a trout, carved by the late Norman Tulip. Prince Charles has been sometimes seen on television using his as a walking stick. Below is an image of another of Norman’s trout headed sticks, the one as carried by the Renter Warden as his stick of office. Find out more about Norman Tulip and his sticks by selecting  COMPANY > THE HORN COLLECTION in our website.

Keith Pinker, Chairman Heritage Committee.