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BARBICAN LIFE


longer had a trade to control it continued as a fraternity for its members and to administer a wide variety of charitable activities for which it became responsible. By the 15th century livery companies had become robust bodies which were likely to survive in perpetuity and so benefactors began to entrust their monies to them. The first great benefactor of the


Mercers’ was Richard Whittington, the famous Dick Whittington of pantomime fame, and a Mercer. He was three times Master of the Company, an Alderman and four times Mayor of London; the title “Lord Mayor” was not yet in use. He died in 1423 a wealthy man, but without children, so he established a charity to be administered by the Mercers’ Company. His executors established an almshouse, Whittington College, the successor of which still exists in East Grinstead as homes for elderly people. His estate also provided for a college of priests, which was dissolved at the Reformation, the first library for the City of London Guildhall, buildings at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and rebuilding his parish church and Newgate Gaol. Another early benefactor was John


Colet, Mercer, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, and friend of Erasmus and Thomas More. In 1509 he founded St Paul’s School to provide a radical education in the classics. He entrusted the Mercers’ with the administration of the school and, on his death in 1519, left an endowment for its maintenance. In 1904 St Paul’s Girls’ School was founded. Mercers continue to serve on the boards of governors of both the boys’ and girls’ schools and the Company is trustee of the St Paul’s Schools Foundation. Sir Thomas Gresham, Mercer,


Merchant Adventurer and wealthy Elizabethan, also died without heirs. During his lifetime he inspired the Mercers’ Company and the Corporation of London to support the establishment of the first bourse in London, the Royal Exchange, which was opened in 1570 by Queen Elizabeth I. (See Barbican Life, Autumn 2011 for an article about the Royal Exchange). In his will Sir Thomas revealed that the Exchange was to be jointly owned by the Corporation of London and the Mercers’ Company but that the revenue should be used to fund a university which became known as Gresham College. Since 1596 the


Corporation and the Company have continued this arrangement. A programme of free public lectures in the original seven chairs of Divinity, Astronomy, Music, Geometry, Law, Physic and Rhetoric takes place at Gresham College, with a Chair of Commerce being added in 1985 to reflect contemporary learning. Although many of the early


benefactors of the Company were Mercers others also entrusted their estates to the Company’s administrative skills. One such was Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, who asked the Company to complete his project to establish Trinity Hospital Greenwich after his death in 1614. It was finally


The Mercers Hall set for a dinner


7


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