The Worshipful Company of Turners

Supporting the Craft, City and Charity for over four hundred years


1845 onwards saw a new spirit of revival, reform and usefulness appropriate to a new age. New men joined the Court of Assistants, many of them destined to make positive and striking contributions to the Company. Prominent among them were T.J. Foord, G.W.K. Potter, W.H. Sadgrove and, above all, the colourful John Jones; indeed, during the 24 years from 1846, each of these men served as Master three times.

They brought in a number of additional members, new blood which greatly added to the strength and calibre of the Livery. In 1863, the Livery numbered 22 members but by 1874, this number had recovered to 130. In 1876, Gladstone was admitted to the Livery.

This resurgence brought about a revival of interest in the ancient craft of turning and the Company instituted competitions and exhibitions open to any workman or apprentice in England for turnery, at first in wood, later also in metal and other materials, such as ivory. From 1870 to 1890, these were held annually at the Mansion House and drew large crowds of visitors, the prizes usually being presented by the Lord Mayor and the winners receiving the Freedom of the Company. They continued, with occasional breaks and varying emphasis until the Second World War.

The honorary Freedom of the Company was presented to a series of distinguished men and women of public repute, including Baroness Burdett Coutts and H.M. Stanley who later became a Turner, and Lloyd George. Baroness Burdett Coutts proved to be a very generous friend, without whose aid the Court would not have been able to carry through some of the laudable projects undertaken in the last three decades of the century.

Between 1870 and 1914, medals for proficiency in mechanical drawing were awarded annually to schools in the London area and, towards the end of this period, a large number of lathes were presented to industrial, reformatory and other schools and children’s homes throughout the country.

By policies such as these, within a generation a handful of enthusiastic men pulled the Turners out of obscurity into comparative prominence among the Livery Companies, with the classic distinction in 1887 of a suggestion in Punch that Dr Turtle Piggott, then Master, should be made “perpetual Lord Mayor”.

No fewer than eight Turners served the office of Lord Mayor in the 75 years from 1874 to 1949, a remarkable achievement for a minor company of no wealth – its total investment income in 1900 was £74 – and little influence in civic affairs.

The gulf and break with the past created by the 1914-18 War were widened and underlined by the Second World War twenty years later. With the Turners, as with all the institutions in and around London, things were never quite the same again. Nonetheless, it has fully maintained, and even enhanced, its sense of purpose and usefulness to its craft. In this it has been greatly assisted by two men, Richard Gardner Williams and Sir Stanley Woodwark.

Richard Gardner Williams

When Richard Gardner Williams, a modest and unassuming member of the Livery, died in 1931, he willed his £43,000 estate, after life interests to his widow and sister (who died in 1945 and 1948), one tenth to Great Barrow Church, near Chester, for the maintenance of his family memorials and the church and graveyard generally, and nine tenths to the Turners’ Company “ absolutely, but with a request that they will apply the same in the first place to provide the cost of an Annual Dinner and Banquet to all the Members of the said Company… on the 24th day of February in each year,” his birthday. Having no other dependants, he left his money to two bodies corporate, each of which had already survived for 600 years and could, he evidently felt, be relied upon to make good use of it.

He had been a Liveryman of the Company only since 1913 but was very interested in its work and especially impressed with the action of some members who had given money to provide schools with lathes. His generous bequest, which multiplied the Company’s corporate funds by ten, provides the annual commemoration dinner and a contribution to the cost of the Turners’ other functions and activities.

Apothecaries’ Hall

When Sir Stanley Woodwark, CMG, CBE, served as Master of the Company in 1943-44, he was also simultaneously Master of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries and of the Worshipful Society of Barber Surgeons – a unique achievement. As Master of the Apothecaries, he invited the Turners to use their Hall for Court meetings and social functions and this happy arrangement continues to this day.

Click here for a link to Apothecaries’ Hall on the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries web-site.

The Courtyard, Apothecaries’ Hall by G. Shepherd, 1814

The Company’s Books and Records

The Company possesses, enviably, complete records of its history and development from its incorporation in 1604 up to the present day.

These historic books and documents are of great antiquarian interest, including as they do the original Charter of James I (1604) and the Second Charter of James II (1685), the original Ordinances of James I (1608) and the subsequent Ordinances of 1698 and 1823, Wardens’ Accounts dating from 1593 and a host of other papers.

In 1987 a remarkable discovery was made in the crypt of St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate. During the clearance of asbestos lagging two wooden chests containing thousands of Turners’ Company documents were found, including the files of successive Clerks between 1751 and 1874. These documents and others, such as the lists of members and a mass of correspondence, illuminate the Company’s decline and its dramatic resurgence as well as the personalities of some of its members, especially the redoubtable John Jones.

These and all other Company documents are catalogued and stored in Guildhall Library under the care of the Corporation of London. All may be consulted by anyone with a genuine interest and written authority from the Clerk.

The Company owns numerous books on Livery Companies and the art of turning, housed in the Library at Apothecaries’ Hall.

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