Company history and traditions
The Worshipful Company of Plumbers is one of the most ancient of the Livery Companies of the City of London.
The origins of the Fellowship of Plumbers are uncertain, but as early as 1365 the Fellowship was in a sufficiently strong position to prepare Ordinances which were presented to the Aldermen for their approval. The Ordinances indicated that it was the desire of the craftsmen that their work should be well done.
The First Article provided that the plumber should submit himself to examination by the best and most skilful men in the trade in order that he might be certified so that “the trade might not be scandalised, or the commonalty damaged and deceived by folk who do not know their trade”.
The Company is proud to be one of the oldest Liveries, placed at number 31, with over 650 years of continuous service to the City of London and the craft of plumbing.
Livery Companies were established to set high standards of craftsmanship and business conduct. They embodied activities similar to those carried out at present by employers’ organisations, trade unions and professional institutions. To trade in the City, a person was required to be a Freeman of the City of London and a Freeman of the Livery Company related to his craft. The discipline exercised by this system accounted for London becoming a significant centre of international trade during the Middle Ages.
The company received its first Charter during the reign of King James I in 1611. The Charter was expressly intended to be “for the utility, advantage and relief for the good and honest, and for the terror and correction of the evil, deceitful and dishonest”.
Livery Companies also assumed responsibility for the education and training of apprentices to their craft. Indeed, it was initiatives taken by the Corporation and Livery Companies that led to the foundation of the City and Guilds of London Institute in 1878.
The ancient Craft Guilds in the City of London were closely linked to the Church. Their origins were therefore as much religious as for the protection of the trade. The relationship is reflected in the title “Worshipful Company of Plumbers” whereby it is both traditional and proper for all Court Meetings to be preceded by prayerful worship.
From earliest times the Church of the Company was St. Michael’s, Crooked Lane, and for this reason the Patron Saint of the Company is St. Michael. It is now traditional for the Court to hold a dinner as close as possible to the feast of St. Michael, the 29th September. The Company’s halls stood on a site close by in Chequer Yard, Bush Lane, near to the Church of St. Michael’s, Crooked Lane. The first of the Company’s Halls in Chequer Yard was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.
The Hall was rebuilt in 1669 and occupied by the Company until 1863 when it was demolished to make way for Cannon Street Railway Station, a commemorative plaque recording this, placed in the main entrance to the station in 1983. In 2011 a statue “The Plumber’s Apprentice”, by the sculptor Martin Jennings, was erected inside the station to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the award of the company’s Royal Charter
In the meantime, in 1831, the Church of St. Michael’s, Crooked Lane, suffered a similar fate, being demolished to make way for the building of the approaches to London Bridge. The church had previously been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilt by Wren.
In 1883 the Company inaugurated a voluntary system for the National Registration of Plumbers. A Congress was held, over which the Master of the Company presided at the National Health Exhibition, and the registration scheme became established. A Register was instituted in 1886.
The Registered Plumbers’ Association managed the Register for the Company, but when that body was merged with the Institute of Plumbing (now the CIPHE) in January 1970, the Company readily agreed to relinquish its authority to issue Certificates of Registration and hand over its Register to the Institute.
Between 1975 and 1977, the Company strove to secure the Statutory Registration of Plumbers through a Plumbing Industry Working Group, but was reluctantly obliged to concede that the climate for a scheme of Statutory Registration of Plumbers was unacceptable. The Company continues to:
- Foster, maintain and develop links with the Plumbing craft and allied disciplines.
- Promote as appropriate youth activities in the craft by financial and technical contributions to educational and vocational ventures.
- Contribute to Charity through the Company’s Charitable and Educational Trust, which provides grants to improve the educational and management aspects of plumbing, as well as grants to the City of London charities.
- Support the “Pursuit of Excellence” so that through contact with other organisations the Company is able to call on past experience for the benefit of future enterprises.
Our original historical records are held by the City of London in the Guildhall library. Please contact the Clerk for more details. We also have an archivist and curator who can be contacted through the Clerk and you can read through these links transcribed copies of our original Ordinances from 1365, and our Royal Charter and Ordinances from 1612, granted by King James 1.
Further details of our history can be found in “A Short History of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers of the City of London” by Past Master Waldo published in 1923 and The History of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers by Past Master Anthony Young published in 1999 available from the Clerk price £30:00
Dinner Protocol & Guidance
Some useful hints concerning etiquette for dinners in the City (Dos and Don’ts).
The Sung Grace
As a Liveryman you are expected to know the “Sung Grace” and participate at dinners without having to read it. Learn the words.