Cordwainers were originally workers in ‘cordwain’, a type of shoe leather which takes its name from the Spanish town of Cordoba, the main source of such leathers in medieval times. The earliest reference to the trade in York comes from the Freemen’s Rolls for 1272-3 in which ‘Thomas de Fulford, Cordwainer’ is the first entry.
The oldest surviving ordinances of the Company appear in Norman French in the York Memorandum Book c.1395. Later ordinances, dated 1417 and c.1430 appear in Latin in the same book. At the time the Cordwainers of York were variously described as an ‘Occupation’, ‘Craft’, or ‘Mysterie’; references to an incorporated company first appearing towards the end of the sixteenth century. Throughout this period the Cordwainers, like many other guilds, exercised great power in the City; senior officers, known as Searchers, were entitled to inspect all leather and shoes coming into York and reject any they found to be of inferior quality.
In 1808, for reasons unknown,the Company ceased to function but in 1977 a number of local people connected with the footwear and leather trades revived it. Today the Company has 55 members and its objectives include promoting knowledge of the British footwear industry; joining with other companies in the civic life of York; and supporting the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs’ charities along with the Master’s own charity. It also presents annual awards to a student at St Peter’s School and students at York College. The Company also takes part, along with other Guilds and Companies in the Annual Apprenticeship Awards in conjunction with the City Council.
The Company is involved with the York Waggon Plays which are organised jointly with the other Guilds of York.
The Master and Master-Elect and new Members take their Oath of Office at a ceremony immediately prior to the Livery Dinner during the course of the Company’s Charter Weekend celebrations. The Master’s Court of Assistants Officers take their Oaths at the AGM in Bedern Hall before processing to All Saints’ Church for the Charter Day Service in the company of Masters from London, Richmond, Glasgow, Dundee, Irvine, Kirkcudbright and York.
The major objectives of the men and women of the Company are:-
1. To promote and encourage knowledge and interest in design, creation, manufacture, repair, distribution and marketing of footwear and industries associated therewith.
2. To revive and continue to promote interest in the origins, activities, ordinances, objectives and attainments of the original Cordwainers dissolved in 1808 and revived in 1977.
3. To establish contacts and exchange information with other Companies or Guilds at home and abroad.
Major dates from the Company Calendar are:- Second Weekend in May - Inauguration of the new Master and new members followed by the Company Livery Dinner in the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall and Charter Day Service at All Saints Church Pavement the next morning at which the Lord Mayor reads the second lesson.
In November the Company holds its Martinmas Feast in Bedern Hall. This is predominantly for Company members and their families and friends.
Click here for the Master’s biography and her chosen charity ‘Jessie’s Fund’.