The Medieval Guildhall: Romans and Romantics

Merchant guilds went by many different names including: fraternity, brotherhood, college, company, corporation, fellowship, livery or society, amongst other terms. In Europe, merchant guilds were known as natie, consulado or hansa. A fraternity, formed by the merchants of Tiel in Gelderland (present-day Netherlands), in 1020 is believed to be the first example of a Medieval guild. The first instance of usage of the term, "guild", was the gilda mercatoria used to describe a body of merchants operating out of St. Omer, France in the 11th century and London's Hanse was formed in the 12th century. The merchants of Cologne had their house in London as early as 1157 and the Guilda Teutonicorum (German merchants warehouse) was located at Cosin Lane and Thames Street in London on the 12th century. The London Guildhall was established around 1120.

These guilds controlled the way that trade was conducted in their region and codified rules governing the conditions of trade. Once established, merchant guild rules were often incorporated into the charters granted to market towns. By the 13th and 14th centuries, merchant guilds had acquired sufficient resources to erect guild halls in many major market towns.

Medieval guild halls were used to store goods and as places for celebratory events. When not required for guild members' events, the hall often became place where townspeople could hold entertainments such as Passion plays. Guild members often cleaned streets, removed rubbish, maintained a nightwatch and provided food relief to the poor. Some medieval guilds allowed market trading to occur on the ground floor of the guildhall.


Mr Ian Swankie

A Londoner with a passion for art and architecture. He is an official guide at Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Guildhall Art Gallery and St Paul's Cathedral, and gives regular tours at each venue. Also a qualified and active freelance London guide and a member of both the City of London and Westminster Guide Lecturer Associations. Clients include WEA groups, Transport for London, the National Trust and London Open House. In 2012 he established a weekly independent art lecture group in Richmond and gives talks on a variety of subjects.