The ceremony of crowning the new Wardens takes place at Company’s Election Feast every year. It is a custom common to the Livery Companies, but the earliest reference to the ‘crowns’ appear in the first Ordinances of the Pepperers of 1345, when it was directed (in Norman French) that ‘the Wardens … shall come with chaplets [‘chapeletz’] and shall choose other two Wardens for the year ensuing upon whom the said chaplets shall be placed’.
The word ‘chaplet’ comes from the fourteenth century Old French ‘chapelet’ meaning garland of roses, which in turn goes back to the Roman use of garlands used to crown victors, as described by Pliny. By 1561 the ‘chaplets’ have become ‘garlands’, described in the Court Minutes for that year, when the ‘iii wardens shall come forth in to the Hall with iii garlands on their heads and the leader to bear in his hands a garland of flowers or such other garland as shall be appointed’. Perhaps the shift from ‘chaplet’ to ‘garland’ reflects the adoption of classical ideas in the Renaissance? The term ‘garland’ is also used by the Carpenters and Broderers, who still have their sixteenth century examples. In an article by J.L. Nevinson on ‘Crowns and Garlands of the Livery Companies’ in Guildhall Studies in London History, April 1974, the author states that ‘the Grocers’ Crowns no longer exist’. They survived until at least 1950 when they appear in the ‘Blue Book’, a list of ‘principal objects of interest’ belonging to the Company, first published in 1936. Perhaps they were lost in the fire of 1965? The ‘chaplets’ used today are modern, following the common form of a red velvet band, and embroidered with the Company arms granted in 1532 and the camel crest granted in 1562. A watercolour of an earlier model, painted in 1852 by Thomas Coleman Dibdin, shows that they were embellished with a completely different design of embroidered rays, perhaps like those decorating the Company’s gowns described as ‘rayed’ with embroidery in 1403, and reflecting an earlier ‘lost’ motif of the Company?