A Certificate Signed by the Elders
Brushmakers Society emblems in the WCML collection.
by Peter Carter
The Brushmakers Society has traditionally claimed that it dates back to 1747. This date refers to the earliest known date for the existence of the Manchester Society of Brushmakers, a rather shadowy organisation referred to very briefly in The old trade unions: from unprinted records of the Brushmakers by William Kiddier and in Arthur Marsh's book - The Historical Directory of Trade Unions Vol. 3.
No records remain from this early period, doubtlessly very few were in fact kept for fear of persecution. George Mayes, the General Secretary of the Brushmakers Society who wrote an unpublished history of the Society in 1949 based broadly on Kiddier but with some fresh information and insights, suggests that unionisation of brushmakers goes back even earlier than 1747.
Some records have survived however. Among the most significant are the visual representations of local brushmaker societies coats of arms. As Robert Leeson says in United we Stand, published in 1971 the "first emblems were the passport stamps" of eighteenth century brushmaker societies who produced documentation for members to identify themselves to other journeymen in strange towns. William Kiddier expanded on the point when he said "the Society of Brushmakers was formed by a process of linking local societies by a system of tramping. In those days each society of importance provided members with an engraving of the Brushmakers arms. As local societies, each had a different design and different motto and date of foundation, but all showed the Russian wild boar, the authentic sign of the trade."
Thus, long before the nationally organised United Society produced a emblem in 1839 that members were invited to purchase at sixpence a copy, the local arms of brushmakers when affixed to certain documents became hugely important sources of trade identification. In the Brushmaker Archive deposited in the Working Class Movement Library by GMB in 1995 are examples of this.
The first is a certificate of apprenticeship completion issued to Thomas Stonhouse on the 25th of September 1830. Stonhouse had served his period of apprenticeship working for a master brushmaker, Messrs Clark and Burbidge of Leicester and became the 400th journeyman to complete his apprenticeship and presumably become a full member of the Leicester Brushmakers Society.
The Leicester Society was formed in 1785 and had adopted the slogan of "The Trade expects every man to do his duty". Nelson's famous Trafalgar signal had obviously struck a chord for the craftsmen of the town and they incorporated the sentiment within their motto.
Mr Stonhouse's apprenticeship certificate is countersigned by six members of the trade. Three are the officers of the local society, Mr Webb the secretary and the two stewards, Cooke and Warburton. The other three are senior members of the trade. By signing Stonhouse's certificate the three older members are acting as guarantors of the newly created journeyman's competence and skill within the craft.
Kiddier writes of the function of the senior member or elder. A Brushmaker account book for 1814 gives the sum of six shillings and sixpence as being paid to the elders. Elders were "men of sound judgement. Any certificate that bore their signatures was a guarantee that the holder was a good and honest workman."
George Mayes, author of an unpublished history of the society in 1949 gives a full description of the ceremony of completion of the apprenticeship.
"When an apprentice finally completed his seven years service with a recognised master, great celebration in the shop marked the occasion. The hour recognised as marking the passing of the final second of the ultimate hour was twelve noon: as the first stroke boomed out so the apprentice set his last knot: a new journeyman had blossomed out from the pitch pan cradle. The custom prevailed right up to a few years ago.
The shop became a hubbub of cheering, shouting men: no matter if they were few in number, no cup-tie crowd could ever show more ingenuity in noise making. Anything that would clang, ring or echo was hammered until the rafters shook and each veteran vied with the next in pressing round the newcomer to the ranks to shake his hand. Later on in the clubhouse, after a good many healths had been drunk, the new journeyman received his certificate, signed by the senior members and stewards. This document was more important to the young craftsman than was his indenture from the employer: the latter only recorded that he had served the requisite seven years in an approved shop, the certificate proved that he had learned his trade, a vastly more important testimony."
A blank certificate produced by the Leeds Society tells a different story. This was issued to verify that the recipient, had "behaved consistent with the rules during his residence in Leeds". By this we must assume the certificate could have been issued to a local member planning to move himself and perhaps his family to another town or even a tramp who has found limited work in the town and was now moving on again.
The Leeds Society was formed in 1791 and had the motto "Small things if multiplyd will flourish and increase, with friendship, unity, concord, love and peace". Marsh's reference to the society tends to suggest however that the Leeds brushmakers were less keen on concord and unity than other brushmakers - they appear to remain aloof from the United Society until 1898!
Within the Library's collection there are also copies of emblems produced by brushmakers from other towns. Each included the Russian boar into the overall design as well as an assortment of tools of the trade, brushes and bundles of bristles. Many local society arms included a knight in armour leaning on his spear or shield. Staveley and Kings Lynn also portrayed the double headed Russian eagle on their Arms. Britannia and Erin appear on the Arms of Staveley and the Independent Brushmakers of 1825.
Leicester already referred to above replaced its knights with two "John Bull" looking characters standing at each side of the coat of arms wearing the knee breeches, coats and hats of the period.
The coat of arms of Staveley (1815) is probably the most ornate of all the examples that have survived. The motto is taken largely from the older, Bristol Society of Brushmakers (formed in 1782) "In peace and unity, may we support the trade and keep out those that would our rights invade - In God is our trust" . In addition to knight, eagle, Britannia, Erin etc the Arms shows a rider, with spear, on horse back pursuing a wild boar in the hunting field.
Finally, the motto used by Kings Lynn Society (1786), Lynn Regis as it is printed, takes poetic endeavour even further than Staveley. "May our trade in love and unity ever flourish, to keep out those that would our rights demolish".
It is likely that other societies, like Leicester and Leeds, produced documentation to verify completion of an apprenticeship or good behaviour and that these coats of arms appears on local brushmakers trade certificates. Sadly, other examples do not appear to have survived. Similarly, the local coat of arms may well have been used on other types of document produced by the local society if for no other reason that the local own coat of arms was obviously a matter of some pride to the members!.
Presumably also, as the local societies began to unite to form a national organisation, The United Society of Brushmakers in 1839, so the local arms dropped out of use. Certainly the blank book used by tramps included a different, more modest design. The knight in armour is replaced by a Russian hunter with a spear on one side of the coat of arms, the Russian boar on the other side with the double headed eagle on the top. The Motto also became more restrained " United to protect. not combined to injure" - a motto far more in keeping with the new Victorian era and growing trade society respectability.
Resources in the library's collection
William Kiddier, The old trade unions: from unprinted records of the Brushmakers (1930) - Shelfmark: B33
Robert Leeson, United we stand: an illustrated account of trade union emblems (1971) - Shelfmark: B29
George Mayes, Unpublished History of the Brushmakers Society (1947) - Shelfmark: AF Brush Box 8
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