Thursday 7 May 2015

Stationers' Hall

The Stationers' Company is over 600 years old, but unlike many of the oldest livery companies such as the Drapers, its members are still largely active in the same industry. Today defined as 'the communications and content industries', it has always included those working in publishing - although what that involves has changed enormously over the centuries. The original guild members wrote and illuminated manuscripts; when printing was introduced in the late fifteenth century, the Stationers embraced it; newspaper makers were incorporate in 1931; and today, they welcome those involved in digital publishing. 

With such a long and varied history, it's unsurprising that a visit to the Stationers' Hall is a fascinating experience. One of the first interesting facts we learned was the origin of the term 'stationer': it comes from the way that unlike most mediaeval craftsmen, the creators and sellers of manuscripts did not move from customer to customer but set up 'stations' (stalls) around St Paul's Cathedral. Stationery because stationary!

In 1559, the guild became a livery company - but with greater status came the responsibility of enforcing copyright. Once a member had asserted ownership of a 'copy' in the Stationer's Company Register, and paid a fee, other members were not allowed to publish it. The Company could not only search for and seize illicit copies, but also prevent publication of books which didn't have a government license. 

The seventeenth century brought a significant source of revenue to the company: it was granted a royal patent to form a publishing company, English Stock. Part of the publishers' profits went towards charitable purposes; much of that profit came from publishing almanacs, including Old Moore's Almanack which still exists today (although with a different publisher).

The Company is also proud of its connection with the King James Bible: the General Committee of Review met at their hall. The Bible thus appears in the decorations throughout the building, as well as on the Company's arms. It can even be see on a drainpipe!

The hall itself has been at the current location since 1606. It was rebuilt following the Great Fire of London, with the new hall opening in 1673. There were then alterations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and further restoration after World War II. The result is a varied grouping of buildings around one of the Company's hidden treasures: its lovely garden. 


Hels said...

Did they have a religious-social role for members eg looking after the widows and orphans, once a member died? Providing a room for members to have their children's weddings etc?

Björn H said...

The hilariously named Wynkyn de Word set up his printing press there in 1500, appropriately. There is a plaque on the wall of the Stationers' Hall

CarolineLD said...

Yes, Hels, supporting families was an important activity - and like many guilds, they also had a school.

Bjorn, the Wynkyn de Worde connection was mentioned but I somehow missed photographing the plaque! Thank you for the information.

Partukkoan said...

Amazing, Thank you for the information.