The Fellmongers’ Guild of Richmond, Yorkshire is an ancient Mediaeval Guild, reborn for today.
It came about because Ralph Waggett, a resident of Richmond and a collector of antiquarian books, saw an old minute book from the Fellmongers’ Company of Richmond come up for auction. He says, “I wanted that book badly – very badly. I was going to have it. If I didn’t get it, I would miss it and have no other opportunity.”
In the event, he got the book, then showed it to a group of friends, who expressed interest in re-forming the ancient Guild.
At the height of the mediaeval era, trade guilds were a powerful force in local government. They controlled craft training, quality standards, and the number of people allowed to practice any trade. Their leaders more or less ran the towns.
Guilds were also self-help groups, supporting members who fell on hard times, and providing social support. But as the centuries went by, their influence waned. By the eighteenth century, the great guilds had become little more than social and dining clubs.
When Richmond re-formed its Fellmongers’ Guild, members knew it had to be more than a social club, and decided to do charitable works. They took some land for conservation, took over the running of two almshouses, and, in various ways, support youngsters training for careers.
One of their big events is to hand out certificates to local apprentices. University graduates, they saw, have a ceremony at which they are awarded their degree. Local apprentices did not have such an occasion – so the Fellmongers set out to give them one.
They scour local colleges, including the Heritage Crafts Alliance at nearby Thorp Perrow, and invite all apprentices to a glittering awards night. Each ‘graduating’ apprentice is given an illuminated certificate and a medal.
It’s a happy occasion, summed up by Ben Smith, an apprentice who received his award last year. He said, “I didn’t know I was going to get a medal. It’s going on the mantelpiece – it’s brilliant.”
Read more about the Fellmongers’ Guild – and Richmond’s other Guild, the Mercers, Grocers and Haberdashers – in Dalesman magazine, March 2018 issue.