The Salters' Company received its first licence from Richard II in 1394, but like other Livery Companies, was probably in existence prior to 1066.
Since before the Romans, the Anglo Saxons had developed methods of extracting salt and the importance of salt was well established. Roman soldiers were given salt rations and this “Sal” is the origin of the word “salary”. A soldier failing in battle or falling asleep at his post was “not worth his salt”.
By the fourteenth century, salt was an essential commodity in England. It was used mainly for preserving meat and fish before the advent of tin cans and refrigeration. Other uses included any operation where ‘chemical’ action was required, such as cleaning, dyeing fabric, bleaching, degreasing, dehairing and softening leather and in the formulation of medicines and ointments.
As well as dealing in salt, Salters were experts in the dry salting of fish and meat and also dealt with flax, hemp, logwood, cochineal, potashes and chemical preparations. The modern day association of The Salters’ Company with chemistry and science can therefore be traced right back to its roots.
By 1394, Bread Street in London was the home of many salt traders, replacing the original tenants who traded in bread and after whom the street was named. As trading in salt became more important in large cities and near ports where much salt was imported, these "Salters" began to group together to look after their own trading interests and welfare. As well as living in the same street, the Salters also regularly attended the same church, the Parish Church of All Hallows, Bread Street.
During this time there were numerous other craft and trade organisations operating in medieval England and quarrels began breaking out between crafts interested in manufacture or production and those whose main concern was trade. There were also internal disputes occurring between different sections of the same trade with lines of operations overlapping and some finding the policy of trade control too restrictive. Furthermore, in London the Mayor and the City administration tried to exert greater control and regulation, which further caused concern amongst the traders. One way of alleviating this was for Salters to become elected to the Court of Common Council in order to exert some influence to their advantage.
By 1394, the monarch of the day, King Richard II, had come to the conclusion that the best way to stop these disturbances and bring revenue to the Treasury was to issue licences to all traders in the form of letters patent which included a set of rules to bring the traders back into line and limit their power. Therefore in this same year a licence was obtained from King Richard II to found a Fraternity and Guild of Corpus Christi in the Church of All Hallows, Bread Street, and to convey property to the Fraternity. At that time, the Fraternity was composed entirely of those who followed the trade of Salter, whether or not they lived within the parish, but over the years membership has expanded to include many other professions.
Trade and craft associations were formed to protect customers, employers and employees by setting standards, checking weights and measures, and imposing penalties on those who broke the rules. Members of these associations trained the young, set up apprenticeships and looked after members who had fallen on hard times, as well as those who were sick and in old age. The Salters' Company Almshouses were all originally established for the primary purpose of providing for disadvantaged members of the Company. The "fraternity" also extended to enjoying each other's company and celebrating together.
In 2007 The Salters' Company celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Royal Charter granted by King James I in 1607. This followed on from licences first granted by King Richard II in 1394, King Edward IV in 1467, King Henry VIII in 1510 and a Charter of Incorporation from Queen Elizabeth in 1559.
The Royal Charter of 1607 reincorporated the Company under its present name of The Master, Wardens and Commonality of the Art or Mistery of the Salters of London and gave it additional powers of jurisdiction over all Freemen exercising the Art of Salter in the City, its suburbs and within two miles thereof. It gave the Court of Assistants of the Company powers of 'survey, search, correction and governance over all freemen of the Company using the Mistery and also over all wares exposed to sale in any way concerning the Mistery and to correct the weights and measures used by the Mistery within the area'. Note: The term "mystery" or "mistery", derives from the French "mestier" (now "metier"), meaning a job or trade.
In 1684 the Company was compelled to surrender the Charter of King James I and was granted a new Charter reaffirming its powers and privileges while reserving to the Crown a large measure of control. The Charter was annulled on the accession to the throne of King William III and Queen Mary II in 1689.
The Church of All Hallows in Bread Street served as the place of worship and central meeting place, where all the Salters gathered for business and entertainment. In 1454 the Fraternity was bequeathed a plot of land by Sheriff and Alderman Thomas Beamond, on which was constructed a building named 'Saltershalle'.
The Hall was used as the charitable headquarters, centre of administration, centre of supervision of apprentices and an estate office. In 1533 a fire broke out in Saltershalle but was successfully extinguished. The Hall was rebuilt after a second fire destroyed it in 1539 and then rebuilt again following another fire in 1598.
The Hall on the original site was eventually deemed too small to house the increasing number of Company members and in 1641 a new Hall was purchased at London Stone in the Parish of St. Swithin. During the Great Fire of 1666, it was burnt to the ground but rebuilt in 1668.
It was decided in 1810 that the Hall at St. Swithins that had stood for 142 years was no longer suitable for the Company requirements and a new Hall was designed. The Foundation stone of the fifth building was laid down on the same site and the new Hall was completed in 1827. On 10th and 11th of May 1941, Salters' Hall was bombed by German aircraft and most of the Hall destroyed once again.
Following the destruction of the fifth building, The Salters' Company was without a Hall for 35 years until 1976 when the current Hall, based on an original concept by Sir Basil Spence, was opened by HRH the Duke of Kent. In the intervening period, the Company was based at 36 Portland Place in the West End, where it remained until the completion of the new Hall. Livery dinners had to be conducted in other Companies' Halls, of which the Ironmongers was the most frequently used. The current Hall is one of the only Livery Halls in the City to have been built in a truly contemporary style and has provided The Salters' Company with a magnificent ash panelled Banqueting Hall, Committee and Court Rooms and office accommodation.
The Salters' Institute
Chemistry and the chemical industry are intrinsically linked to salt-making, and in 1894 the Company began directing their educational charitable giving to the sciences. The Company instituted a number of scientific research fellowships worth about £100 a year to various recipients including one in chemistry at the Pharmaceutical Society's laboratory.
Following World War I, the government asked The Salters' Company for assistance helping young men whose chemistry studies had been interrupted by serving their country during the war. It was decided that the best way the Company could further the interests of the trades for which it was originally formed (of which chemical manufacture was now seen as the principal trade), was to donate the majority of the Company's income towards promoting research in the chemical industry and training of chemistry students.
In 1918 The Salters' Institute of Industrial Chemistry was founded, which supported the chemical industry by assisting chemistry students in the form of post-doctoral fellowships and grants-in-aid. The scholarships and fellowships were discontinued in 1975 and instead the Company launched the Graduate Prizes, awarded annually to 10 outstanding final year chemistry and chemical engineering students with the motivation to go on to make a mark in the chemical industry.
Salters' Curriculum Development
In 1983, the Professor of Chemical Education at The University of York, David Waddington, organised a workshop for 30 leading chemistry teachers and educators to help produce curriculum resources for a new chemistry course for 13 to 14 year old students which led to more Salters' courses for both GCSE and Advanced Level being developed over the years.