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The Story of the Guild


During the reign of Edward III (1327 – 1377) there was an increasing number of secular persons engaged in the production of manuscripts. They were the scriptors, escriveners and text-writers and it was they who established themselves into an organisation incorporating their own code of bye-laws. These bye-laws were recorded in the city archives by the reign of Richard II (1377-1399). However the first formal Guild record, so far traced, relates to the granting of Ordinances in 1487 by the City to the Guild.

During this period, the beauty and elegance of manuscripts continued to be developed by: luminers who did the colouring and gilding and the little pictures; noters who wrote the musical notation; turners who either invented  the floreate marginal borders or acted as translators; flourishers who drew the elaborate initial and capital letters.

At the start of the reign of Henry VI (1422 - 1471), the Guild introduced a new bye-law following a dispute with a local clergyman who was practising the craft of textwriter for profit.  The Guild won its case – Sir William Todde, Mayor of York was sitting - and introduced the ordinance which stated that “noo priest having a competent salary, that is to say 7 marks or above, shall exercise the craft of text-writers, lomers, noters, tournours, and flourishers for his singular prouffitt and lucour, nor take noone apprentice, hird man or other servaunt, into his service, nor make noo bargains or covenauntes to that intent, under the payne of forfaitur of 13s 4d”

The first parliament of Richard III (1483 - 1485) introduced legislation to allow foreign printers and stationers into the country and the free importation of printed books was encouraged. Frederick Freez settled in York, probably from Flanders, became a Freeman of the City and set up his printing press.  This was the start of the demise of the text writers, but the luminers, turners and flourishers continued to decorate the printed books.

At that time the Guild controlled the trade of writing and the illuminating of manuscripts, certain legal activities and some early book-keeping, all within the City of York.

The function of the Guild continued in some form until the nineteenth century when the requirement for national professional bodies led to its decline.The Guild was revived in 1991 as an amalgam of members of the legal, accounting and other similar professions in York.  It was the youngest of the seven extant York guilds and companies until two new guilds were formed in 2016.

In keeping with tradition, the objectives of the Guild continued to be to create a forum for members to meet together, to exchange ideas and views, to provide education and training and, in common with other Guilds, to undertake charitable works within, and support the traditions of, the City of York.