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Title: Crafting artisanal identities in early modern London : the spatial, material and social practices of guild communities c.1560-1640
Author: Kilburn-Toppin, Jasmine
ISNI:       0000 0004 2740 6115
Awarding Body: Royal College of Art
Current Institution: Royal College of Art
Date of Award: 2013
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In recent decades, scholars have begun to substantially reassess the economic and political significance of the craft guilds of sixteenth and seventeenth century London. Revisionist work by economic historians (Epstein and Prak, 2008), has convincingly overturned the notion that guilds were unanimously restrictive of commercial growth, opposed to innovative practices and exploitative of their members. Several political and social studies (Rappaport, 1989; Archer, 1991; Gadd and Wallis, 2002) have demonstrated the dynamic and philanthropic nature of these corporate bodies, which provided avenues for occupational mobility and charitable support; ensuring that London remained stable despite the extraordinary demographic, financial and social pressures of the final decades of the sixteenth century. The longstanding interpretation of ‘guild decline’ in the early modern era has thus been widely problematized and shown to be anachronistic. This thesis proposes a new methodology for examining the craft guilds of late sixteenth and early seventeenth century London, and suggests that the established scholarship has overlooked the significance of artisanal knowledge, skills and identities in the construction of meaningful communities of workshop practitioners, small-scale merchants, and the regulators of the crafts and trades. In this study, the built environments and material artefacts associated with London guilds are considered as active cultural and social agents (Appadurai; Kopytoff, 1986) which both reflected, and in turn reinforced identity formation, and the ritual and political boundaries of communal life. The changing structure of livery halls, their internal configurations and external designs, and the material furnishings and collections gifted, displayed and utilised within these institutional homes, are shown to be essential means through which guildsmen established competing claims for civic authority and professional artisanal accomplishment. Using textual, visual and material evidence from a range of London craft guilds - primarily, but not exclusively, the Goldsmiths’, Armourers’, Carpenters’ and Pewterers’ Companies - this work examines the physical and epistemological place of artisanal cultures, c.1560-1640. It considers the collaborative processes through which workmanship was evaluated by master craftsmen on early modern building sites, and the political and social value of such artisanal skills, techniques and knowledge within their associated livery halls. It is demonstrated that through the donation of visual and material artefacts to company buildings, and their subsequent use in the convivial, political and religious rites of the guilds, craftsmen were able to shape their reputations and post-mortem legacies. Their material gifts and bequests reveal that guild halls were simultaneously sites of memorisation (Archer, 2001), sociability, craft regulation and artisanal innovation. Within communities of living guildsmen, freemen wished to be remembered as affluent civic philanthropists, guardians of illustrious histories and, crucially, as masters of their respective artisanal practices. The changing spatial and material environments of guild halls are shown to be social products of complex organisations, which honoured both commensality and hierarchy; fraternal values and political and epistemological distinctions. The rebuilding projects of the London livery halls are considered in juxtaposition to the strained spatial and political relationships between guild halls and city workshops, and contemporary efforts to uphold the authority of liverymen to inspect artisanal standards and material quality within the wider urban environment.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: W290 Design studies not elsewhere classified