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).