Our Archivist, Dr Ruth Frendo, writes: To mark Black History Month, we’re highlighting a very significant document from our archive. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African was registered in our Entry Book of Copies on its first publication in 1789.
Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745–1797) was born in west Africa, and was sold into slavery as a child. In his memoir, he describes his home and upbringing as the son of an Eboe (Igbo) dignitary. He calculates that he would have been eleven years old when he was kidnapped by slave raiders. He was then sold on several times, each time taken further away from home, eventually finding himself on an Atlantic slave ship. There followed years of hardship, during which he learned to read and write English, worked his way up to the rank of able seaman, and purchased his freedom. He subsequently became a passionate activist for the abolition of slavery, and a defender of London’s black poor (many of whom had fought on the British side in the American War of Independence, and retreated from North America with the defeated British in 1783).
The Interesting Narrative… was published by subscription: in other words, the publication was financed by a group of individuals, all of whom received a copy, much as happens today with crowd-sourcing initiatives such as Kickstarter or Unbound. This was not an uncommon publishing model in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – notably, the first illustrated edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dryden’s translation of Virgil, and Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language were all published by subscription schemes. The list of subscribers to Equiano’s Narrative is now, of course, an interesting historical document in its own right, and illustrates how sympathy for abolition had gained ground among different social groups. Those who contributed include the Prince of Wales (subsequently George IV) and several members of the aristocracy, as well as Equiano’s fellow abolitionist Granville Sharp, and a long list of individuals whose histories, other than as supporters of the abolitionist cause, are now lost to us. Other prominent members of the African British community also subscribed: Ottobah Cugoano was himself a published author by this point, and his book Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species was an important abolitionist tract. Also on the list is ‘William, son of Ignatius Sancho’. Ignatius Sancho was an author and composer, and the first Briton of African heritage known to have voted in a British election.
Equiano’s use of two names in his authoring of the book is significant. In the book, he explains that Gustavus Vassa was the name given to him by his ‘captain and master’ on board the slave ship that first carried him to England. Prior to this, he notes, he had been assigned random names by different slavers: ‘In this place I was called Jacob, but on board the African Snow I was called Michael.’ But he also recounts that as a child he was named ‘Olaudah, which in our language, signifies vicissitude or fortune, also, one favoured, and having a loud voice and well spoken’. Reclaiming that name is clearly part of reclaiming his dignity from the dehumanising narrative enacted by enslavement.
Equiano’s memoir played a vital role in the abolitionist campaign. It’s not the first testimonial of slavery registered at Stationers’ Hall; earlier texts detail the sufferings of Europeans taken captive by soldiers and privateers of the Ottoman Empire, such as Francis Knight’s A true and strange relacion of seaven yeares slaverie Under the Turkes of Argeere suffered by an English Captive Merchant (1640). This tradition of writing used biblical imagery to express the self-perception of Christian Europe in relation to an alien ‘Other’, and was subsequently developed by English settlers in America into the genre of captivity narratives, memoirs of settlers enslaved by Native Americans. Equiano’s literary intervention appropriates and subverts this rhetoric, showing the Europeans as the enslaving ‘Others’. It’s a brilliant strategy of empowerment, and by registering the book at Stationers’ Hall, Equiano injects this subversion directly into the mainstream discourse.
It took another 40 years of dedicated campaigning for the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire. The shift of perception engendered by texts such as Equiano’s should not be underestimated in this campaign, and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano stands among the earliest works in a genre which, as developed by writers such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs and Solomon Northup, was to become particularly significant in American literature and the American struggle for emancipation.
As the new Company year starts, a new team of four Renter Wardens takes office. Renter Wardens serve for one year and this year they are (starting top left and moving anti-clockwise in the photo) David Harry, Andrew Jones, Rod Kirwan and John Waits. Their role is to ensure the smooth running of events and to guard the Court when it sits. They wear a dark blue gown with a thin red border and if walking outside, say when leading the Court as it moves between the Hall and the cathedral for the Cakes and Ale service, a hat is worn.
Liveryman Mike Mote accompanies the Court to the Cathedral in 2017- his year of office as a Renter Warden
Freeman Richard Gilpin has been kind enough to research the history of the role of Renter Warden and writes:
THE STATIONERS’ COMPANY’S RENTER WARDENS
The position of Renter Warden in the Stationers’ Company is an historic one, which dates back to the granting of the 1557 Charter. The Charter in turn led to a grant by the City in 1560 which gave the Stationers the right to have a Livery. In this grant the number of Liverymen in the Company was defined merely as ‘all suche and asmeny’ as could afford it.
By the summer of 1562 the shape of the company had become clear.
At its head were the Master, the Upper Warden and the Under Warden. Immediately below them in precedence were the Senior and Junior Renter Warden, chosen annually on Lady Day, who were senior members of the Livery but not members of the Court. Their main responsibilities were collecting the quarterly subscriptions from all freemen (until 1567 they were also called Collectors), keeping the accounts, and maintaining an up-to-date list of the names and addresses of freemen and liverymen. Until 1887 they also had to provide a Venison or Election Feast for the election of the Master and Wardens on St Peter’s Day, 29th June.
This work would have brought them into close touch with the Under and Upper Warden, an experience that would have been invaluable to them if they wished to progress in the Company.
Any Liveryman who was not already a Court Assistant would have discovered that until he had served as Renter Warden he would not have been eligible for election to the Court of Assistants. This would in turn have prevented him from progressing to become Under Warden, Upper Warden or Master. The office of Renter was a bar that had to be passed, either by Serving or Fining, before a man (and now a woman) could proceed to the Court.
In the 16th century Renter Wardens were drawn from the pool of Liverymen at the rate of one per year (each holding the offices in successive years), and a second pool was then created from which a new Under Warden was drawn off each alternate year. Of the first forty-five Liverymen, only eleven failed to become Renter Warden – of these, most were prevented by death.
The fining for avoidance of office as Renter Warden was introduced by the Company in 1578, and in 1598, when James Askew utterly refused to serve, he was ordered to prison as a warning to others, and fined £5 for ‘disobedience, obstinacy and breaking the ordinances’.
In the early 17th century, owing to the complexity of rents and fines at the end of leases involved in the collection of rents, this duty was taken out of the hands of the Renter Wardens and given to the Clerk.
By the 1690s a Renter Warden, having been elected by the Court from the Livery, still had the job of collecting quarterage, and had to account to his successor within a month of doing so; any failure incurred a fine of £5 for each month’s delay. Fines of £50 for refusing election and for failing to provide a dinner for the Livery on Lord Mayor’s Day (a somewhat onerous responsibility) could also be levied. Around this time the position of Assistant Renter Warden was created, and the occupant would normally have become Renter Warden a year later.
The Stationers’ Company entered the 19th century on a wave of prosperity. Rents were rising and, with the popularity of Old Moore’s, English Stock’s almanack business was flourishing. Not all Liverymen however were called to Serve or Fine for the office of Renter Warden: they formed, along with those who were not ambitious for promotion (or too poor to pay for it), a section of the Livery that was known as Rotten Row.
In 1884 the Court relieved the Renter Wardens of their obligation to provide the annual Lord Mayor’s Day Livery Dinner.
Today four Liverymen become Renter Wardens each year, and their responsibilities are significantly less demanding than their predecessors in the previous four hundred years. It is, however, a position that gives Liverymen a glimpse of life on the Court and it often leads to progression from the Livery to higher office
1969 photograph of Renter Wardens D Wyndham Smith, E Lovett-Derby, G Mandl, J McGarry. Charles Rivington (Master) is in the centre.
David Wyndham Smith and George Mandl were subsequently elected Master (in 1981 and 1992 respectively).
Ruth Frendo writes: In June I attended a joint meeting of the City, Cambridge and Oxford Archivists Groups, held at the Museum of the Order of St. John (photo above). The meeting was accompanied by a programme of talks and presentations on recent developments relating to archives held by some of the member institutions of the three different groups.
The City Archivists Group is a network for archivists working in the City of London, and also welcomes anyone with a professional or personal interest in the City’s archives. Group meetings provide a fascinating insight into the breadth and variety of these collections, which include archives of the livery companies, financial organisations, the Inns of Court, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Group has a special connection with the Stationers’ Company, as it was set up in 1986 by my predecessor as archivist, Robin Myers, with the support of the Master of the Company at the time, Alan Thompson. So it seemed particularly appropriate to give a presentation in which I talked about the fulfilment of another project initiated by Robin’s pioneering work: the improvements in preservation of, and access to, our records achieved by the construction of the new Tokefield Centre.
Talks on the programme varied as widely as the organisations represented, and included an inspiring presentation by the Salter’s Company Archivist and Public Programmes Manager, who described their work to widen educational access to their Company’s archive; an informative breakdown of digital project management by the Baring Archive’s Digitisation Archivist; and an introduction to the Institute of Historical Research’s Layers of London project, which is using historical property records held by London’s public and private archives to create a digital map which chronologically ‘layers’ the changing landscape of the city.
As well as offering a great opportunity to meet other professionals and discuss our work, the day gave us a chance to look around the fascinating Museum, which I had never visited, despite its nearby location in Clerkenwell. The Order of St. John’s established its Clerkenwell Priory in the 12th century, but the Order’s land was seized by the Crown during the Reformation, and the Clerkenwell property saw different uses over time (including providing the offices of the Master of Revels in the sixteenth century). The Museum’s collections chronicle the Order’s history and its role in cultural and medical developments, and is well worth a visit. Many thanks to Stationer Robert Athol for organising the meeting. Robert ran the City Archivists Group for the last three and a half years, and although he's now handing over this role, he will continue to play an active part in the Group's activities.
Members will be familiar with the story of the origin of the word ‘Stationer’ as the name those limners who stopped being peripatetic, and who set up stalls or ‘stations’ in St Paul’s Churchyard, were given. Julian Venables who was made Free in January writes on, amongst other things, astrology and is very interested in the Company’s almanacs and he has come up with an alternative theory about the origin of the word. While we can’t see the Company changing horses at this stage it is an absolutely fascinating theory as we are sure you will agree. Please click here to read Julian's article
Bettine Pellant, CEO, PICON and Liveryman of the Stationers' Company outlines the relationship between PICON and the Company and how each benefits the other.
While the Stationers’ Company has its roots in history, it has worked very hard over the years to ensure that, unlike many other Livery companies, it remains very relevant to the evolving print industry. One way it does this is by maintaining close links with the industry’s trade associations. One of these is PICON which represents the suppliers to the printing industry in the UK and has had close links with the Stationers’ Company for many years. There is a nice and natural synergy between the two on many levels. Whilst I am CEO of PICON, I am also very proud to be a Liveryman, so too is past PICON Executive Director Tim Webb who is a familiar face to many in the Company.
PICON is just one of several print industry trade associations that come together to support the Stationers’ Company’s events and awards. It provides a natural, neutral and historical hub for us all, bringing us together to meet, network and exchange ideas. One such event is the Winter Trade Association Meeting and Lunch on 22nd January when a number of trade associations will meet to discuss a variety of topics and listen to guest speaker Lord Triesman, a Labour Lord and recent Liveryman, talk about what we might expect from any change to a Labour Government should an election be called any time soon! This is a key event in the Stationers’ calendar which not only facilitates the variety of print industry trade associations to network and discuss matters in confidence, but also provides a valuable forum to update Stationers’ on what is happening in various areas of the industry.
PICON also supports the Shine School Media Awards and the Innovation Excellence Awards. Last year the PICON Shine Award for Best Business Strategy was won by St Paul’s Girls’ School for their school newspaper The Marble which turned a loss into a £1000 profit in just one year. The Innovation Excellence Awards recognise and celebrate innovation and the key role that our industries play in the UK economy. Tim Webb is on this year’s judging panel and the winners will be announced at an event on 26th June.
For PICON, the special link we have with the Stationers’ Company allows us to appreciate the past and celebrate the future.
Past Master Ian Locks recently came across an article, which he described as “the most powerful I have read for a long time which describes the history of the last 22 incredible years for the printed media”. It is well worth the read and you can do so by clicking here. With thanks to BoSacks & The Precision Media Group, America's Oldest e-newsletter est.1993.
The Clerk, William Alden, rightly insists on absolute black tie for gentlemen at livery dinners. So it was with some trepidation that I asked if my guest, Mr Julius Mih, could come in colourful African robes! To my delight he readily agreed. For my guest, on his first visit to the UK, this became an amazing experience.
Mentoring at SCWA – an eye-opener.
It seemed like a no-brainer, in 2014. The Company wanted volunteers to start a mentoring scheme at the Academy. I had the time, and after completing the very thorough safeguarding checks, was delighted to be deemed eligible.
Stationers’ Hall has always been a place of debate and today is no exception with our round table events provoking discussion and often presenting two sides of an argument. One recent Digital Media Group event was a presentation on 3D printing and Members may recall the detailed report on the event from Past Master John Waterlow in the April 2017 edition of Stationers’ News. This was just the Company’s latest foray into exploring 3D printing.
Since 2014, Adam Matthew have been working on the digitisation of the Stationers’ Archive. The originals of the digitised items will from now on be handled and consulted less (thus reducing the opportunity for damage and deterioration) but academics, and indeed the public, will be able to refer to the digitised version much more easily. We asked Claudine Nightingale to tell us more about the firm and their work.