Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Searching for Regency London

Like most tourists, I found myself at St Paul's Cathedral, a well known sight in London now and certainly just as well known in Regency times.


Nearby and of interest to me as a writer is a medieval institution, the Guild of Stationers and their Hall. Stationers' Hall located in Ave Maria Lane, just off Ludgate Hill.

From the Middle Ages, no man was allowed to trade in the City of London unless he resided there and belonged to a Guild, later a livery company. One such was a fraternity or Guild of Stationers (booksellers who copied and sold manuscript books and writing materials and limners who decorated and illustrated them). Each appointed a warden to control and regulate them.

By the early 16th century printers had joined The Stationers' Company and by the mid century the printers had more or less ousted the manuscript trade. In 1557 the Guild received a Royal Charter of Incorporation and in 1559, the right to wear a distinctive livery. They became a livery company, numbered 47 in precedence.

The Stationers' Charter secured them from outside competition, but they had to settle their own internal disputes, which mostly concerned infringements of ownership of 'copies' or what we would now call copyright.

Until the early twentieth century the most usual way of joining the Company was by serving an apprenticeship to a freeman or liveryman. Although the system gradually declined, the Stationers' Company is unusual among livery companies in insisting that its members work in the book or allied trades.

The interior presents much the same appearance today as when it was built although the frontage was radically altered in 1800 to give it an early nineteenth century fa├žade.


Hall Registry

By 1556 according to Guild rule it was an offence not to present to the Wardens every publication not protected by Royal Grant. A Register of copies became the written record to which claims could be referred and by which disputes as to ownership might be settled. Succeeding Copyright Acts confirmed the Company as the place where copies should be registered 'Entered at Stationers' Hall'.Registration under the Copyright Act of 1911 terminated in December 1923.

Fascinating. Until next time, happy rambles.