Medieval London

Grocer's Company Crest

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Medieval corbels were known for their beautiful and detailed designs, regularly referencing nature, wildlife, or organizations. Typically made out of stone or wood, artisans were tasked with designing specific corbels for unique structures. Carved out of wood, this specific corbel depicts an angel holding the crest of the Grocers Company. The carving is 450 mm in height, 300 mm in width, 150 mm in depth, and has a total weight of 3.5 kg. While chipped and worn today, the corbel originally boasted apainting over the crest of the Grocers Company: a red chevron on a yellow shield, both within a field of black shroves. The Grocers Company’s crest pays respect to the company’s origin as the service for importing spices from the East into the City of London, via both camel and boat.

The Grocers Company, also known as the Worshipful Company of Grocers, ranked second among London’s Great Twelve Livery Companies, based on their influence in the City of London’s government and economy. It fell only behind the Worshipful Company of Mercers in precedence, out of all of London’s trading companies, both ancient and modern. With roots dating back to 1100, the Grocers Company was originally founded as a guild of merchants facilitating the spice trade. The Company played a prominent financial and cultural role in the city life of London, on top of their traditional trade of spices.

While this carving serves a role in representing a significant component of London’s civic and guild culture, specifically in the depiction of the Grocers Company crest, it also serves a physical purpose. Medieval architecture of London used  corbels for structural and aesthetic purposes. Corbels are designed in architectural schemes to extend from a wall, column, or beam, in order to provide structural support to the material directly above the corbel. The function of a corbel is to support the respective arch that curves above the juncture where the corbel has been placed. When the ceiling of a room boasts a more drastic curve or twist from the rest of the room, a corbel of equally deliberate design supports it in order to bear the unorthodox distribution of weight. Beyond architectural significance, and in deeper, cultural sense, corbels serve a significant aesthetic purpose. Unique and intricate designs in the carvings of corbels are crafted to depict or represent specific images or symbols. These designs may have been implemented to pay respect or homage to the location of the corbel. 

According to the Museum of London, this specific carving originally served as a corbel in Crosby Hall, the home of a wealthy grocer named Sir John Crosby. He funded and constructed this medieval mansion, located in the Bishopsgate Ward of the City of London. A magnificent and large construction, made out of both stone and timber, Crosby Hall remained occupied even after Sir Crosby’s death in 1476. The Hall is also remembered for surviving the Great Fire of London in 1666. Crosby Hall was known for hosting both foreign dignitaries and local government representatives from the City of London. It even served as a home to both royalty and a saint by hosting Richard III of England Sir Thomas More, prior to ultimately being deconstructed and relocated to Chelsea.

Original owner and visionary of Crosby Hall, Sir John Crosby remains a significant figure in the medieval history of London. After having earned his freedom as an apprentice to Grocer John Young, Sir Crosby went on to earn his own wealth as a fabric merchant, then made his way into London government. Sir Crosby also went on to earn his knighthood through his valiant defense of London against the Lancastrians. Crosby would serve as a Member of Parliament for the City of London, a Sheriff of London, Master of the Grocer’s Company, and an alderman until his death. 

While a simple and charming carving, this corbel exhibits deep ties to both a famous London landmark in Crosby Hall and individual in Sir John Crosby. The corbel of the Grocers Company crest served an important role in the lives of the people who encountered it on a regular, day-to-day basis, as it was a reminder of the standard the Company set forth and a structural support of the Company’s great mansion. Whether a Grocer or not, all who experienced the corbel in Crosby Hall understood and appreciated the financial success and social influence of the Grocers Company.

-Aaron Banasiewicz

Grocer's Company Crest
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