• Crafting Artisanal Identities in Early Modern London: The Spatial, Material and Social Practices of Guild Communities c.1560-1640

Kilburn-Toppin, Jasmine, 2013, Thesis, Crafting Artisanal Identities in Early Modern London: The Spatial, Material and Social Practices of Guild Communities c.1560-1640 PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

In recent decades, scholars have begun to substantially reassess the economic and political
significance of the craft guilds of sixteenth and seventeenth century London. Revisionist work by
economic historians (Epstein and Prak, 2008), has convincingly overturned the notion that guilds
were unanimously restrictive of commercial growth, opposed to innovative practices and
exploitative of their members. Several political and social studies (Rappaport, 1989; Archer, 1991;
Gadd and Wallis, 2002) have demonstrated the dynamic and philanthropic nature of these corporate
bodies, which provided avenues for occupational mobility and charitable support; ensuring that
London remained stable despite the extraordinary demographic, financial and social pressures of the
final decades of the sixteenth century. The longstanding interpretation of ‘guild decline’ in the early
modern era has thus been widely problematized and shown to be anachronistic.
This thesis proposes a new methodology for examining the craft guilds of late sixteenth and
early seventeenth century London, and suggests that the established scholarship has overlooked the
significance of artisanal knowledge, skills and identities in the construction of meaningful
communities of workshop practitioners, small-scale merchants, and the regulators of the crafts and
trades. In this study, the built environments and material artefacts associated with London guilds
are considered as active cultural and social agents (Appadurai; Kopytoff, 1986) which both reflected,
and in turn reinforced identity formation, and the ritual and political boundaries of communal life.
The changing structure of livery halls, their internal configurations and external designs, and the
material furnishings and collections gifted, displayed and utilised within these institutional homes,
are shown to be essential means through which guildsmen established competing claims for civic
authority and professional artisanal accomplishment.
Using textual, visual and material evidence from a range of London craft guilds - primarily,
but not exclusively, the Goldsmiths’, Armourers’, Carpenters’ and Pewterers’ Companies - this work
examines the physical and epistemological place of artisanal cultures, c.1560-1640. It considers the
collaborative processes through which workmanship was evaluated by master craftsmen on early
modern building sites, and the political and social value of such artisanal skills, techniques and
knowledge within their associated livery halls. It is demonstrated that through the donation of visual
and material artefacts to company buildings, and their subsequent use in the convivial, political and
religious rites of the guilds, craftsmen were able to shape their reputations and post-mortem
legacies. Their material gifts and bequests reveal that guild halls were simultaneously sites of
memorisation (Archer, 2001), sociability, craft regulation and artisanal innovation. Within
communities of living guildsmen, freemen wished to be remembered as affluent civic
philanthropists, guardians of illustrious histories and, crucially, as masters of their respective
artisanal practices. The changing spatial and material environments of guild halls are shown to be
social products of complex organisations, which honoured both commensality and hierarchy;
fraternal values and political and epistemological distinctions. The rebuilding projects of the London
livery halls are considered in juxtaposition to the strained spatial and political relationships between
guild halls and city workshops, and contemporary efforts to uphold the authority of liverymen to
inspect artisanal standards and material quality within the wider urban environment.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W290 Design studies not elsewhere classified
Date Deposited: 22 Aug 2013 16:06
Last Modified: 30 Oct 2021 08:38
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/1356
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