1067 William Charter talk at Guildhall Old Library
Monday 3rd April 2017
Organised by the City Corporation and introduced by the Chief Commoner,Michael Welbank, MBE, this proved to be a very interesting evening. I was unaware of this charter or the fact that it's presently on view downstairs. Arriving just before 6pm, there was time for a quick glass of ginger beer before we were asked to take our seats in this impressive medieval-style great hall. Michael introduced three academics who were going to place the charter in context: Chair: Professor Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History, University of East Anglia; Professor Caroline Barron, Emeritus Professor of History, Royal Holloway University of London; and Dr Nick Holder, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Exeter. Each of them spoke with the authority and depth of knowledge one might expect and between them were able to vividly describe a pre-Conquest London (or Londonburgh as it was known then). In some respect little has changed - Edward the Confessor had embarked on a massive building programme in the 1050's and 1060's and was in the process of constructing three of the largest buildings in Europe - Westminster Abby, the Palace of Westminster, and the City had responded with St. Paul's Cathedral - obviously these are all early incarnations without accurate record, but excavations have shown the sort of ambition of scale they encompassed, with lengths of beween 100 and 300 meters in stone and using Roman tiling for the round Norman arches as of course fragments of Roman Londinium was still much in evidence then. When William was victorious at Hastings in 1066, it seems that amongst his first acts was to preserve the indpendence of his main wealth-creating centre and this extraordinary and tiny little document is that guarantee of 1067. Taking the form of a sort of letter (the scribe made a mistake on the first line and had to scratch out a word - the evidence is still quite visible), it has two slits at the bottom - the larger, upper on had a seal attached to it (you can still see the impression it left), it was then folded into the document and the lower, thinner piece used to bind it up - very neat. Amazingly in the 19th century, a treen box was discovered in a sort out containing fragments of the original wax seal which the British Museum re-set in a wax disc of similar size. Once the talks were over and a few questions taken, there was a reception with wine and bits which was very enjoyable. I met a Guildhall opera course student who was there with his design student flat mate, each sporting his own wooden bow tie made by the design student - I'm not sure if they'll catch, but were interesting all the same. As the room thinned out, the Master Tax Advisor and I went to look for something a bit more substantial around the corner, but not before going downstairs to see the 1067 Charter first hand.