This spectacular guild hall dates from the 14th century. It was built in the 1350s and 60s by a religious guild dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who used the double aisled great hall for feasts and business meetings, while the undercroft was a hospital offering spiritual and physical comfort to the poor and the infirm.
Many of the leading members of the fraternity were merchants and mercers, and in 1430 they were granted a charter by Henry VI, formally incorporating them as a guild, or mystery, of mercers. The charter itself and the seal which can still be seen in the Hall cost the mercers £5. John Lillyng, a mercer of questionable repute, made three trips to London on behalf of the guild and his claim for expenses still survives. Lillyng spent 40s on ‘wyne and dyners’ for lawyers and clerks, and made a number of cash payments that were clearly intended to grease palms in the royal bureaucracy. He also claimed for green wax, wine and cakes, and two lost horses!
Over a hundred years later, in 1581, the guild invested in another charter, this one transforming the Mercers’ Guild into The Company of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York. The Company continues to look after the Hall and maintains an unbroken tradition of supporting religion, charity and fraternity in York.
The history of the Company and the Hall is a fascinating one. Last year, I was lucky enough to edit an illustrated book, The York Merchant Adventurers and their Hall, and it was a privilege to get to know the story of the Hall and of the people who have cared for it over more than 650 years.
The book was launched in fine style last October; almost a year later, I’ll be at the launch of another, very different, book. I’ll be celebrating the publication of Time’s Echo in the great hall on 11th September. Having read the accounts of the medieval feasts that took place there, I feel sure the members of the early guild would approve!
For more about the Hall, see http://www.theyorkcompany.co.uk/