Worshipful Company of Gunmakers

The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1637 to promote and regulate gunmaking. Unlike many of the old guilds and livery companies, it still performs that role through its management of The Proof House which is also known as the London Proof House.

According to its history, King Charles I bestowed the Royal Charter upon the Company. There had been an argument going back to the 1300s over which guild or company should govern gunmaking. The Blacksmiths and the Armourers each thought they should be the ones in charge. A royal commission was established and its recommendation was that an independent company be given the charter.

The Charter defined the role that the Gunmakers still play today. It created a proof mark, a stamp of the letters ‘GP’ surmounted by a crown. The mark is stamped on guns that meet the statutory safety requirements. Only the Company can bestow it, and it is illegal to sell a gun without a recognised proof mark. To administer proof, the Company was given broad powers of “search, gage, proof, trial and marking of all manner of hand guns in London or … imported from foreign parts”.  The power to search (with a constable) for unproved guns and seize them is still vested in the Company today.

The Proof House along with the Birmingham Proof House has the responsibility to proof barrels, to improve gun safety, and to certify de-activation of certain firearms. Proofing a barrel involves firing a proof cartridge through it that exceeds the maximum theoretical service pressure by anywhere from 25% to 50%. This is done remotely. After a reinspection of the barrel and making sure its measurements are still within spec, then it has the proof mark affixed.

From Worshipful Company of Gunmakers

The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers also certifies those that through training or apprenticeship can be called Gunmakers. The Gunmakers’ Certification requires a minimum of four years work in a specific gunmaking craft such as barrel making, engraving, or stockmaker. The candidate submits a portfolio of his or her work along with other evidence to a committee of Master Gunmakers for evaluation. If they pass, they are awarded the Certification. The Company also recognizes Master Gunmakers who usually have 20 or more years in the trade. Like the apprentices, they submit a portfolio. If they pass, they are deemed Master Gunmakers and can affix the title “MAsR.G” after their names. For example, it would be Mr. John Bull, MAsR.G.

I mentioned guilds and livery companies earlier. While many no longer serve to govern a trade, they still have a legal role in the governance of the City of London. They elect the Sheriffs, the Bridgemasters, and Ale Conners of the City of London and endorse the election of the Mayor of the City of London. As an aside, the term “livery” comes from the clothing and regalia adopted by the guilds and companies to distinguish themselves in times gone by.

The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers ranks number 73 in precedence. The oldest is the Worshipful Company of Mercers (general merchants) whose charter dates to 1394. Gunmakers rank ahead of lawyers, insurers, lightmongers, and tax advisors in terms of age and precedence. The responsibility for approving new livery companies is that of the Court of Alderman who act like an upper chamber in the legislative administration of the City of London. The primary role for most livery companies now is charity and education. Many also have affiliations with British military units. The Gunmakers, for example, are affiliated with the Light Dragoons.

I stumbled across a link to the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers from a posting on the AfricaHunting.com forum. There had been a discussion of what gun shops and gunmakers to visit while in London.

One last note: the Gunmakers have been in their present location on Commercial Road in Aldgate, London since 1675. They were one of the few guilds or livery companies to have been located outside the old walls of the City of London but this was presumably done for safety reasons back in the day.

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