Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers

Last night I had the honour and privilege of attending the Annual Young Pattenmakers' Dinner.

The Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Livery Companies or Guilds are part of an ancient system of trade associations which was established to control the manufacture and selling of specific goods and services. The Companies also protected the working conditions and wages of the people operating under the relevant trade. This system was common throughout Europe from the medieval period, if not earlier, but their active survival today is unique to London. The older Companies such as Grocers, Haberdashers, Ironmongers, Bowyers (long-bow makers), Cordwainers (fine leather workers) and Coopers (barrel-makers) - to name but a few - have been joined in the past century by Companies such as the (far less exotic-sounding) Tax Advisers and Information Technologists. 

That's all very nice but who the heck, I hear you ask, are the pattenmakers? What is a patten? Well, this is a patten:

Image source

Pattens were protective overshoes that were worn over your regular shoe when you went outdoors. They helped protect your shoes from being dirtied and prematurely ruined by the muck of the streets, in the days before paving was prevalent. In the days of pattens, one could expect to encounter all sorts of unpleasant refuse in the streets, particularly due to the presence of horses and other animals, not to mention lack of sewerage, which meant that human waste was simply tossed out on the street. 

However, as paving became more common and the streets cleaner, pattens became no longer a day-to-day necessity. (I note that there is also a Worshipful Company of Paviors - those responsible for paving and maintaining roads. One has to wonder if there was - and is - rivalry between the Pattenmakers and Paviors...)

Image source

Although pattens are extinct in today's day and age, the Pattenmakers still exist. They now have a close association with shoe makers and designers, as relevant, connected and still thriving trades. Meanwhile, the charitable and social functions of the Pattenmakers carry on. And one such social function is the recently instigated Young Pattenmakers' Dinner, an annual event started four years ago to allow curious friends of Pattenmakers to find out a bit about the Company and to get a taste of how they do things.

I was invited by a lovely young lady who has been working in my office over the summer. As a person intrigued by historic customs and institutions, I readily took up the offer. And I'm certainly glad that I did because I had an excellent evening, enjoying dinner and drinks and conversation with some of the interesting and varied people present.

Image source

Oh, and the other thing to mention about the Pattenmakers is that, unlike many of the Livery Companies, they do not have their own hall. The reason for this is not recorded, but it is possible that it, like a great many others, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and it was never rebuilt. As they do not have their own hall, they instead make use of the other Livery Companies' various halls. Last night's affair was held in the headquarters of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners:

Image source

Yep, that's right. It's a freaking ship! The HMS Wellington, to be exact. Built in 1934, it acted as a convoy ship in World War II, and has been moored in the Thames since 1947 as the headquarters of the Master Mariners. A pretty awesome dinner venue, I'm sure you'll agree.

So I think I can safely say that last night was all a pretty unique experience. And that I kind of fancy becoming a Pattenmaker myself now...


  1. Oh wow! That is so interesting and a wonderful and authentic step back in time. I knew you couldn't have misspelt pattern. Then I thought of the small plate used in Holy Communion, but that is with one 't' - paten. I notice that the green pattens appear no more hardy than the shoes they are protecting! And fancy having dinner onboard. It sounds like your evening just became more and more unusual and pleasing. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. It was indeed great to see such an old tradition such as a Livery dinner in action today, and an unusual and pleasing evening, as you say. I had the same thought about the green pattens - I imagine they were worn more for show by ladies who never, ever had reason to get their feet dirty as they were ferried about in carriages!