'A Mystery Object'

In March 2019 Vivian Bairstow a Past Master of the Coopers contacted the Grocers about a forthcoming sale at the auctioneers Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury. The Lot which piqued his interest was advertised as ‘3 Victorian painted bronze coach badges’ (14.6 cm x 10.7 cm) bearing respectively the arms of the Grocers, the Wheelwrights and the Horners. They were clearly all made at the same time, for the same function. All three Companies expressed interest and the ‘badges’ were duly purchased, each Company taking their own badge. But are these really coach badges, and if not, what could they be for?

The obvious place to start research was at the Coachmakers’ Company whose Clerk expressed doubt as to their supposed function, though it was suggested that they might have been fixed to hired coaches. They do not look like any other coach badges extant, examples of which are at the Museum of London. Nor are there any references to the purchase or use of such badges, or even coaches, in the Grocers’ Company Court Minutes. They are too small to be barge or ‘stern’ badges, and if really Victorian, then made at a time when the Company barges were being sold. Neither do they confirm to the design of City property marks, also made of cast metal and painted.

Graham Westwell, the Assistant Archivist and Past Master of the Wheelwrights suggested contacting the Cutlers who have a collection of badges, but their Clerk responded ‘I’m afraid that I am completely at a loss on this one!’. Next he tried Guildhall, still no luck, but his last idea seems the most likely, that they are badges to decorate a sword rest, explaining why they ‘match’. Originally installed in City churches to hold the sword of state when the Lord Mayor was attending a service, the oldest survives from 1664, and the practice ceased in 1883. However the expert in this field Tony Tucker questions the fittings on the badges, two screw holes one at top and the other at bottom, which do not match surviving examples that are set flush into the decorative ironwork frame. Can anyone help us solve the mystery of what they are?

A mystery object