95th Anniversary Dinner – H.E. Mr Simon Smits

The Worshipful Company of Grocers today ranks second amongst the Livery Companies of the City of London. Originally known as the Guild of Pepperers, their earliest records date from 1180. The Company was formed as a religious and social fraternity of merchants and moneyers who traded in spices, gold and other luxury goods from the East, Byzantium and the Mediterranean.

The site on which Grocers’ Hall stands was acquired in 1427, in the following year the first Charter was granted. The Great Fire in 1666 nearly ruined the Company, destroying its Hall, and its property in the City. Fortunately, the generosity of some of its members permitted the renovation of the Hall, later let as a residence to the Lord Mayor.

King Charles II honoured the Company by being enrolled as a member, and in 1689 William III (of Orange) conferred a more signal distinction upon it by accepting the office of Sovereign Master. In 1694, the second Hall was leased to the newly-formed Bank of England, of which Sir John Houblon, a Grocer, was the first Governor.

The fourth Hall (1893), one of few Livery Halls to survive the Second World War; was largely destroyed by fire in 1965. Perhaps the greatest loss -amongst many irreplaceable items- were the Company’s Charters.

Today, the Company, along with the other Livery Companies, continues to play its role in the daily life of the City, in the election of the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, and carries on the traditions of the ancient fraternities which, since the middle ages, have formed sounding boards of informed responsible opinion.