Felmongers Company of Richmond - History and Heritage
The date of foundation of the Fellmongers Company is unknown but like other craft and trading companies it has its origin in the Middle Ages and probably began as a religious fraternity whose members, drawn from the same occupation, met together for worship having their own shrine and observing their own saint’s day. They also found a common interest and identity in their social and charitable activities. Side by side with this religious association they developed a similar closeness in matters governing their working lives both in their dealings with each other and with strangers.
Eventually all these activities merged together and in the course of time the craft element became dominant. Rules and bye-laws governing such things as the quality of materials and workmanship, the acceptance of apprentices and protection from the activities of strangers were drawn up. They became known as "mysteries" from the Latin word for trade and later became more generally described as Companies.
Wool Weight - Click to enlarge
The Companies came, in time, to exercise great power in the administration of their communities. In Richmond, until 1835, they elected the Mayor and their power is reflected in their Arms emblazoned on the Mayor’s chain of office. They acquired exclusive trading rights within the Borough and wide exemptions from tolls and taxes.
The Fellmongers Company was originally made up of skinners and glovers and was for long so described but latterly it became known by its present title. A fellmonger is a dealer in fells or sheepskins, who separates the wool from the pelts.
The powers of the Companies and their exclusive trading rights and privileges were taken away by the Municipal Reform Act 1835 and the raison d’etre for their existence disappeared. A few continued for social or particular reasons but most, including the Company of Fellmongers and all but one of the Richmond Companies were wound up. Then, in 1980, a minute book of this Company was offered for sale at Sotheby’s. It was bought and a decision was taken to refound the Company. This was done in the following year. Since then a second minute book covering the last years of the Company has been discovered in Albany University New York.
The refounded Company is not like its predecessors. It has no trading or municipal rights. Its members are drawn from all occupations. They do, however carry on the social and charitable characteristics of their forebears and, mindful of their origins, they have an annual service of rededication on St. George’s Day. The old Fellmongers had a song which began “Here’s to thee kind brother John”. That epitomises the friendship and fellowship the Company tries to engender and when the members dine together they conclude their meal by singing their song.