Above: Vintners’ Hall which faces onto Upper Thames Street.
“Upper Thames Street – Part 8”
When William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, in 1066, he lived at the Palace of Westminster. He had brought many of the French nobility with him, so the language at Court was only French. Since England was not famous for its wines, he ordered the finest wine to be imported from Bordeaux. Not only did the French load the ships at Bordeaux but they also lived in the City beside the Thames in and area than became known as ‘The Vintry’ because of its main import.
The Vintners’ Company goes back to those early days. Its first Charter was granted in 1363. Because of its connection with royalty, it is one of only two City Companies to own swans on the Thames. Swans were a great delicacy in medieval times and it was mainly the Crown that owned the swans in London.
Above: Vintners’ Coat of Arms over the main doorway, showing three barrels.
The Vintners’ Hall began in 1357 and the Company has been on the same site ever since. Of course, there have been several halls rebuilt on the same site. Their hall was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. That was rebuilt to designs of Christopher. The present hall was built in 1820-23. Its entrance is on the south side of Upper Thames Street. All the land between the hall and the Thames, as well as land on the west side of the hall, is owned by the Company. The imposing building facing the Thames on is in use as offices and is known as Vintry Place.
The Ward in this part of the City is the Ward of Vintry due to the main trade in the area being related to fine wines. The Vintners’ Company celebrated their 650th anniversary in 2013. The company is Number 11, which makes then one of the Twelve Great Companies in the City of London.
Geoffrey Chaucer – the man who wrote the ‘Canterbury Tales’ – was brought up very close to the Vintners’ Hall. His father was a Vintner and Geoffrey had been born in a house just a short distance east of the hall. His father supplied French wine to the Court and he therefore spoke fluent French. It is likely that Geoffrey was also fluent in French. In the ‘Canterbury Tales’ he describes the Prioress, who would have been a well-educated woman, as a person who spoke French but apparently she had a very bad French accent. In the tales it says ‘French in the Paris style she did not know’.