Haberdashers’ Hall, West Smithfield


Above: The beautiful modern interior in wood of the Haberdashers’ Hall.

Haberdashers – there’s a good old fashioned word. The first recorded mention of the craft was in 1371. The Company has its roots in a fraternity (a group of people) who, in medieval times, lived in the same area and carried out the same sort of work. They worshipped at St Paul’s Cathedral. The members were haberdashers by trade. They sold ribbons, beads, purses, gloves, pins, caps and toys and in 1502 were joined by the hatmakers’ fraternity. Thereafter there were two types of haberdasher – haberdashers of hats and the original haberdashers of small wares.

In 1448 the Company was granted a charter of incorporation by Henry VI enabling it to hold land and to have its own Hall in which to hold meetings. The Haberdasher are one of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies – their number is eighth. The site for the hall was bequeathed 1478 to the company by William Baker. It was built on the corner of Staining Lane with Maiden Lane (now part of Gresham Street). The first hall was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. That hall was damaged in a fire in 1864 and later restored. It was completely destroyed in 1940 during a bombing raid of London in the Second World War. A modern hall was opened in 1956. All those halls were on the original site.


Above: View of the quadrangle from a window in the hall.

Around the time of the Millennium the Company decided to sell their site in Staining Lane and move to a new location in West Smithfield. Instead of the hall standing beside the pavement, access is gained via gates which lead to a cloistered quadrangle. Designed by Sir Michael Hopkins and Partners and constructed by Holloway White Allom, the Hall is modern but laid out in a traditional style. A passageway leads off the pavement to a quadrangle with the modern hall built along one side. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 24 October 2002. The public were able to visit it on the Open Weekend of September 2003.

Although the Company has no connection with the original trade of haberdashery, there are strong connections with no less than 14 schools to which money is contributed. Much of the land in and around New Cross is owned by the Haberdashers and there is the well-known school in the vicinity – Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College – a secondary school with academy status located in New Cross. It had previously been two grammar schools, one for boys and one for girls.


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