The Turners’ Company Charity
An Historical Perspective
For 400 years – from bread for the poor in Ludgate in the 1600s, to supporting students suffering ‘device poverty’ during Covid 19 – the Company’s history describes how, from its earliest days “the Turners, in common with most other Livery Companies, inherited a tradition of charity and benevolence”.
There are many references in early Court Minutes to our charitable endeavours even though we have never been a wealthy company.
On 20 May 1627, the Court of Assistants ordered that bread should be distributed to the poor in Ludgate, Newgate and Wood Street. There are also many references to funds being granted to members of the Company who had fallen on hard times, to widows, and sometimes to their children.
Like the award of a “maintenance grant to Thomas Audley, the son of Robert Audley, a member of the Company, being a poor scholar in the University of Cambridge for some Exhibition to be bestowed upon him for his maintenance at the University”.
In 1630 turners John Towle and John Glascock fell on hard times and had many unsold chairs on their hands. The Court decided to buy twelve dozen of Mr Towle’s chairs and eight dozen of Mr Glascock’s chairs, which were eventually sold on with the Beadle, Goodman Fletcher, allowed twopence for every dozen sold. This is an early version of the Charity’s “Turning for Good” initiative, described below!
Early accounts show that very many payments, mostly small in amount, but large in aggregate, were made for purposes of charity. In 1800 the Court Minutes showed that six or seven poor widows or “Pensioners” were paid 10s 6d each from the Company’s Poor Box by the Upper Warden as an “annual bounty”.
Charitable giving, however, was intermittent for most of the Company’s first three hundred years. It was not until 1903 that the presentation of lathes began – following a proposal by Past Master Frederick Oldershaw Smithers.
In 1908 the Court began to make a number of small grants, of from five to ten guineas, to several charities of a general nature; but frequently these turned out to have been given by the Master or Wardens or some member of the Court in the name of the Company.
By April 1914 some sixty lathes had been presented to industrial and reformatory schools and homes for boys and girls throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. But the practice lapsed with the outbreak of the First World War and the Company entered into another period of financial stringency.
After the Richard Gardner Williams Bequest of some £48,000, the Company’s fortunes were transformed and in 1965 the presentation of lathes was resumed.
There are today 110 Livery Companies in the City of London, with over 40,000 members. Together they give over £40 million annually to a wide range of beneficiaries and other charities, making them one of the highest giving groups in the UK.
The Turners’ Company Charitable Trust
As part of this enormous charitable endeavour, the Turner’s Company Charitable Trust (the ‘Charity’), supports turning through competitions and exhibitions, bursaries and other educational training, as well as working with the professional and amateur turning associations in the UK.
It is managed on a day-to-day basis by the Charity Committee under the Chairmanship of a Court Assistant, with six other Liverymen as members. The Chairman of the Howe Committee also attends the Charity Committee as an ex-officio member.
The Committee was first established in 2006 and meets at least three times a year. The Charitable Trust itself is overseen by a board of Trustees, comprising the Master, Deputy Master, two Wardens and the Chair of the Charity Committee. It was recently decided that the Deputy Master should be the Chair of the Trustees. The Trustees are currently also considering whether their composition should be modified to better reflect the composition of the Company’s membership, including incorporating some younger members.
Where does the money come from?
The Turner’s Company lacks the inherited land, buildings and capital which enable some Livery Companies to give very generously. The Company makes an annual donation to the Charity and other funds come by way of the Charity’s own investment portfolio, donations from members of the Company and occasional bequests. Each year, the Charity has a budget of around £60,000 for charitable purposes.
Taking a leading role in the renaissance of the craft, the Company and its Charity support a wide range of educational, training, and professional activities, often through the
provision of lathes, tools and training on a longterm basis. Part of the programme is focused on schools caring for children with special needs.
The Charity helps by making grants to other charities or voluntary bodies, and by acting as an umbrella and resource body to appropriate charitable causes throughout the UK, with a particular focus on the City of London.
Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic
The Charity’s investment income was affected by the financial impact of the pandemic, although not, it turned out, by as much as was originally feared. In any normal year, the Clerk, almost daily, receives requests for assistance from a variety of charities. In 2020 and 2021, these were amplified by the dire need in which some organisations found themselves, faced with falling incomes and increased demand for their services. We could not possibly give to all and so were forced back to our focus on the Craft and the City, even if we were occasionally broad in our interpretation of those aims.
Early in the pandemic, through the Howe Committee, it became apparent that there was going to be a real need to support independent professional turners, almost all of whom had their income from exhibitions and teaching slashed to an almost unsustainable level.
‘Turning for Good’
Under the leadership of the Master, and her “Turning for Good” initiative, the Charity provided substantial funding to enable the Company to buy in turned stock from members of the Register of Professional Turners. It was, and is, the intention that some of this stock will be sold to recoup funds. The remainder is being used to support events such as the Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch and the Red Cross Fair, both held annually at Guildhall, when we would normally appeal for donations of stock to sell.
Although limited to £500 per turner, the scheme was well-received by our friends in the turning community and some forty turners took advantage of the scheme. Thanks to the heroic efforts of Master’s Steward and Howe Chairman Christopher Scott, together with Assistant Clerk Rebecca Baker, an online sale just prior to Christmas 2020 raised £3,400 and showed the potential for this kind of scheme in future years.