The Worshipful Company of Coopers is one of the 110 livery companies in the City of London. Many livery companies trace their histories back to medieval guilds established to regulate a craft or trade. Coopers were responsible for cask-making, a cask being a generic word for all sizes of such wooden containers, of which a barrel is one. Others include pins and firkins.
There is a so-called order of precedence amongst livery companies and the Coopers’ Company is 36th out of the 110, reflecting its history in that it received its first Royal Charter in 1501, with the earliest record of its predecessor guild being in 1298.
Casks were used historically to package and store most wet and dry goods and of course, as a container that rolls, it can be steered and propelled easily. We think today of casks being used for wine, beer, spirits and cider, but there were many other uses for them historically, such as for dried fish and other foods on naval vessels. Also, one was used to convey the corpse of Admiral Lord Nelson immersed in French brandy, back to England after the Battle of Trafalgar.
The Company had the right to control the craft in and around the City which meant imposing quality control, training apprentices, setting standards for fully fledged coopers and inspecting casks, and these rights survived into the eighteenth century.
There are six broad aims of the Coopers’ Company today, which are supporting the Lord Mayor and the City of London, two schools, military and other affiliations, pursuing charitable endeavours, fellowship and last but not least, supporting the craft of wooden cask and vat making and repairing.
Whereas there are many working cooperages in Scotland, as a result of the requirement for Scotch to mature in wood, there are far fewer in England. Of the four English cooperages, three are operated by Marston’s, Samuel Smith’s and Theakston’s breweries, and the fourth is an independently run equivalent called Jensen’s Cooperage.
More information concerning the Coopers’ Company can be found at www.coopers-hall.co.uk