Worshipful Company of Carmen
Carman: (1580)

A man who drives a car (a wheeled vehicle); a carter, carrier.
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

Carmen existed when the City was born. Traditionally, their fellowship dates to the 13th century - in 1272 the City passed a by-law controlling carriers. The Crown could force carmen to handle Royal chattels and the pay was pitiful, so rackets developed, officials took bribes, Carmen were ‘excused’ and the City stepped in. Carters had to carry Royal and civic goods. The Carmen coped. They subcontracted to the suburbs, whence other carters came to take the City’s sewage

Mediaeval Cart and Carman
Mediaeval Cart and Carman

In 1517 the Carmen organised. They formed ‘the Fraternyte of Seynt Katryne the Virgyn and Marter of Carters’, and promised to furnish ‘the kings carriages’, to ‘clense, purge and keep clene all the Stretes of …Donge’ and to carry ‘fewell…wynne, oyle, woads…within the said Citie and Suburbes’ at a reasonable price. In return they were granted the right of fellowship, but not of regulation. The City still ruled.

Carmen held standings or carrooms, where they plied for hire. So did woodmongers. They wanted no part of the Carmen’s guild, so they bribed the Aldermen, overtook the Carmen and dominated the trade. The City put woodmongers in charge. The Carmen reacted - they asked Christ’s Hospital, short of cash, to take over, in return for fees - they agreed.

Apprentices were bound, the Queen’s service arranged; children’s safety, noise, congestion and parking were covered. When ‘Carremen meeting one another in narrowe streetes…are so churlish to one another as that they will not make waye’, their answer was the one way street.

But hard times came in 1597 and the Carmen fell out with their friends; the woodmongers saw their chance and formed a Company in 1605, to regulate Carmen, who promptly rebelled. Petition, lawsuit, hearings in Star Chamber and public disorder retrieved their freedom, but the Woodmongers still ruled the transport roost.

In 1641 the Carmen went to Parliament, seeking power over their affairs; their bills went to Committee - who forgot it.

In 1649 the Carmen were back in print and in the Commons with ‘The Carmens Remonstrance or a reply to the false and scurrilous Papers of the Woodmongers’ - the House ruled for the Carmen.

In 1660 times were even worse - Carmen joined the Woodmongers in common cause. Come the restoration, a Woodmonger Lord Mayor confirmed Woodmonger control - prices rose, the King complained and the Carmen went back to Christ’s Hospital.

Woodmongers, Carmen, Coalers and Lightermen, 1730

The Fellowship of Carmen was authorised in 1668. In 1690 the two Companies vied for control. The Carmen accused their rivals of cheating. The response was unpleasant, if with a grain of truth - Carmen were ‘unthinking…untractable and ungovernable by themselves or one another nor without great difficulty by their Superiores’.

In 1700 the Carmen withdrew and by 1746 the Woodmongers had faded away.

The 18th century brought growth and prosperity, but the 19th, problems. Docks were building and Carmen were powerless. From 1811 to 1838 they wrangled with Christ’s Hospital. Then the City took over, and made their only grant of livery in Queen Victoria’s reign - to the Carmen.

Trade slackened. Transport was national, no longer a Civic issue. The Carmen barely survived. Then the Fellowship revived and gained a new Royal Charter in 1946. (The original was issued in 1605, incorporating Carmen and Woodmongers together.)