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15th Century Silversmiths

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 03:00 Written by 

If you had visited a nobleman’s banqueting hall in the middle Ages it would be more than likely that you would have seen an impressive dresser on which there would have been a wide variety of silver and gold items. 

The nobility in those days invested heavily in precious metals partly because opportunities for investment were limited but mainly to display their wealth to both friends and enemies.

Magnificent silver collections

The rivalry that existed amongst the nobility to acquire outstanding silver collections was highly lucrative for the gold and silversmiths of the day.  Unfortunately these hugely expensive collections were almost completely destroyed between 1455 and 1485 during the Wars of the Roses and consequently few pieces have survived.

Many noblemen lost their lives in the Wars of the Roses, which were primarily fought by the powerful and wealthy, and whilst the conflict was in progress the merchants and solicitors, particularly in London, became wealthier.  Their money was also invested in gold and silver and though the items they purchased were not as magnificent as those previously owned by the nobility they were nevertheless, of ample quality to keep the London gold and silversmiths sufficiently busy to register significant vast profits.

Notable silversmiths who were Mayors of London

It’s interesting to note that during the 15th century there were 6 Mayors of London who were silversmiths the most notable being:

Sir Drugo Barentyne

Held office in 1398 and for a second term in 1408 and in 1407 was instrumental in building the 2nd Goldsmiths’ Hall.  

Sir Edmund Shaw

Richard III’s court goldsmith between 1483 and 1485, Sir Edmund Shaw became mayor of London in 1482, On the 20th March 1488, Sir Edmund made his will to include a legacy for founding a Grammar School in Cheshire and died exactly one month later.

Thomas Wood and Goldsmith’s Row, Cheapside, London

In 1491, Thomas Wood was Sheriff of London and was responsible for the construction of Goldsmith’s Row in Cheapside. There were a total of 10 houses and 14 shops built in Goldsmith’s Row and Wood gave the shops to gold and silversmiths.  He also provided money to fund their businesses if they were young.  Goldsmiths’ Row was completely destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666 which led to gold and silversmiths relocating to Lombard Street.

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