'The Colour of the Company's Livery Gowns'

In 1956 the rebuilding of the Fourth Hall, after the damage caused in the Blitz, was complete. It was a time to look forward. That year the Court asked the Wardens‘to recommend a new gown for adoption for the Master, Wardens and Livery’,which prompted detailed research into the gowns worn in the past, both by the Grocers and the other Companies of the Great Twelve, to see if there were important historical precedents and traditions. The result is a fascinating collection of papers, and the revelation, recorded in the Court Minutes of 1st February 1957, that ‘there is no evidence that any Company has a prescribed right to any particular colour or colours’.They also discovered that the choice of colour changed over time.

In 1402 the Grocers chose green and celestryn [blue] for their gowns, in 1414 scarlet and green, while in the 1450s the Grocers purchased regular supplies of verdulet (bright bluish green) cloth from weavers in Coggleshall Essex. Sombre plain black gowns superseded the bright and part-coloured gowns after the Reformation.

In 1957 the Wardens, now‘free to make our recommendations from all the colours and materials now available’ chose the green you have today. Perhaps this is a version of what Eric Hobsbawm christened an ‘invented tradition’, or in this case a‘re-invented’ one, given the earlier preferences shown for green?

A watercolour sketch of a gown survives in the archive at the Hall, which suggests that the colour blue was considered, though rejected, at this time.

The Colour of the Company's Livery Gowns