The Spectacle Makers' Company (WCSM) Today
The WCSM and its Craft
The Spectacle Makers' Company (WCSM) was founded to improve the quality of life for the visually impaired. At the time of its incorporation in 1629, however, there was little more that could be done other than to ensure that the spectacles issued to them were fit for use – hence the Company's name.
The early Spectacle Makers also specialized in the manufacture of scientific instruments, and they would have supplied much of the technical equipment to be found on board the Fleet at Trafalgar. Increasingly, however, an appreciable number of them became involved in the development of vision science which has now reached the point where the preservation of eyesight, including the prevention and treatment of the various diseases that can affect the eye, embraces a number of discrete professional and technical disciplines. All are represented within the Livery Company, enabling it to position itself as the apolitical forum within which all aspects of eyecare may be debated in a spirit of fellowship.
For almost a hundred years, the Company trained and qualified "high street opticians", as witnessed by the letters "FSMC" and "SMC(Disp)" still occasionally displayed in some optical practices today. However, since the 1980s, when it played a prominent role in the establishment of the College of Optometrists and the Association of British Dispensing Opticians, it has focused its education programme on driving up skill levels among the non-regulated workforce within the optical sector, namely the optical technicians and optical practice support staff. Accredited as a national "awarding body" in England, Northern Ireland and Wales since 2001, and in Scotland since 2010, the Company has an ever increasing number of recognized qualifications listed on the Qualifications and Credit Framework at Levels 2, 3 and 4,
and at the equivalent levels for the Scottish Credits and Qualification Framework. All these qualifications are based on National Occupational Standards which the Company's representatives helped to develop.
Qualification was originally exclusively by formal written examination, but at the end of 2008 the Company began to offer the option of "e-assessment" at Level 2. Both forms of examination test knowledge, but now the Company is also beginning to test competence by offering "assessment in the workplace", a development long foreshadowed by the practical examination at the end of the two-year course for those seeking the Level 4 Qualification for Optical Technicians. Holders of that qualification, which has long been recognized as the "gold standard" within the optical industry, are entitled to put the letters SMC(Tech) after their name.
Those wishing to sit the examinations or assessments leading to the Company's qualifications may prepare themselves to do so in any way that they wish. However, the WCSM Education Trust offers a programme of distance-learning packages and day-release courses for those who lack other sources of training.
As the current Master's pioneering work in laser eye surgery testifies, some members of the WCSM still play a prominent role in optical research, which the Company seeks to encourage through the award of medals. The Gold (Crook) was introduced in 1983 to recognize outstanding lifetime achievement in this field, and has since been awarded nine times, the recipients including the Nobel Prize Winner, Sir Alan Hodgkin, and the pioneer of cataract surgery, Sir Harold Ridley, among that number. The four Silver (Fincham) Medals awarded to date since its introduction in 1995, recognize those who, whilst still in "mid-career", have nevertheless already made their mark, and its presentation is intended to spur them on to even greater achievement. The Bronze (Ruskell) has been awarded annually since 2002 to encourage new entrants to the field of vision science research to publish the findings of their first major project.
It is perhaps a sad reflection of the state of affairs within the United Kingdom that eight of the ten recipients so far are citizens of other countries.
On 27th December 1759 the Court decided to open membership of the Company up to whomsoever they could recruit. Such a policy might easily have lead to disaster and, coupled with the Company's failure to react to changing economic and social circumstances which was already loosening its control of the craft, it was no doubt a factor in undermining the WCSM's standing within the optical fraternity.
However, it might also be viewed as the reason why, less than 100 years later, the Company was able to begin "production" of its remarkable number of Sheriffs, Aldermen and Lord Mayors. It also allowed a fascinating collection of other notable men to become "Spectacle Makers of London", even though one would not normally associate them with either London or spectacle making.
Among these men were JOSIAH SPODE II, son of the founder of the famous pottery business established in Stoke-on-Trent in 1770, the two CHRISTIES, father and son who set up and established the famous London Auction House, Charles CHUBB, the famous locksmith, SAMUEL SMILES, the Scottish political reformer and author, HENRY CHARLES "Inky" STEPHENS, the son of Dr Henry Stephens, the inventor of the famous ink, and FREDERICK JOHN HORNIMAN, one of the great names in the tea trade.
Whilst the Company's credibility as a supporter of its "craft" in general, and as a trainer and examiner of optical technicians and optical practice support staff in particular, is dependent on the majority of today's members having, or having had some involvement in optics in one form or another, it remains the Court's policy to allocate up to 25% of the available places to those with no connection with "the Craft" whatsoever.
Not only does this make for a more colourful and interesting fellowship, but it exposes the concerns of the optical world to a wider, and potentially influential audience, besides offering the Company a pool of skills needed to manage and administer a corporate body.
The Spectacle Makers long ago overcame any scruples that they may have had over admitting ladies to their fellowship.
The Company's first lady Freeman was Lucretia Clark(e), daughter of John Clark(e), Spectacle Maker, who was admitted through patrimony on 30th March 1699.
She was followed on 11th January 1721 by Esther Burbridge, daughter of Isaac Burbridge (Master 1717), who was admitted through servitude, having been apprenticed to her father. Next came Esther Sarrazin (1st October 1729) and Susannah Passavant 8th January 1735), both of whom had been apprenticed to George Wildey (Master 1722-1732)1 .
(George Wildey ran a shop called The Great Toy, Spectacle, Chinaware & Print Shop next the Dog Tavern, corner of Ludgate Street, near St Paul's. His trade is shown as Map Seller, toy Shop and Optical Instrument Maker and, perhaps because of this, 8 of his 15 apprentices were women.
All were indentured as Spectacle Makers, but only Sarrazin, Passavant and an Elizabeth Dupuy, who obtained her Freedom by Servitude on 26th March 1741, appear to have completed their apprenticeships.)
The first lady Liveryman was Dame Laura Rebecca Marshall, wife of the then Master (and former Lord Mayor), who was admitted on 25th September 1919.
The first Lady to be admitted to the Livery by right after achieving the Company's professional qualification for ophthalmic opticians (FWCSM) was Elizabeth Maud Weston, who joined on 1st December 1921. Then came Henrietta Sebag-Montefiore (5th May 1939), sister of a later Lord Mayor, Waley-Cohen). The second lady FWCSM to be admitted was Joan Partridge (29th June 1954).
Anne Christine Silk FBDO, FRSM became the first lady Master of the Company in 1990.
The Royal Charter of 16th May 1629 established a corporate body known as "The Master, Wardens and Fellowship of Spectacle Makers of London", and gave "full powers and authority... to make ordain constitute and set down reasonable laws statutes decrees ordinances and constitutions ... for the good rule and government" of that corporate body to its Master,
Wardens and Assistants "for the time being".
The Master and Wardens are elected every year at the Court's meeting in June, but do not assume office until
"The first Wednesday after the Feast of St Michael the Archangel next" [i.e. the first Wednesday in October].
Unfortunately, the Company cannot be precise as to the number of individuals who have held office as Master Spectacle Maker.
Because the records from its first 37 years were lost in the flames in 1666, it is not known how many holders there were between Edward Gregorie in 1629 and John Turlington in 1665; nor is it totally clear whether a name that appears in the list more than once during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century refers to the same person, or to a father and son.
Further complications arise in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Masters appear first under their own family names, and then subsequently in the guise of a member of the Peerage. However, the Clerk's best guess is that the Master who took office on "the first Wednesday after the Feast of St Michael the Archangel" in 2011 was the 180th person to have held that office.
The Master invests his predecessor, John Marshall, with the Deputy Masters' Badge towards the conclusion of the subsequent Court Luncheon
The Clerk reads out their Declaration to the incoming Master & Wardens
The first Charter authorized the appointment of only eight Assistants, but on 21st June 1956 the current Sovereign granted the Fellowship a second Charter authorizing an increase to "not more than fourteen". This Supplemental Charter also stipulates that the quorum for a meeting of the Court is to be "The Chairman and six other members present (of whom one shall be a Past Master or Warden)".
The Chairman is defined as being "The Master or failing him the Immediate Past Master (now termed the Deputy Master)... but if neither of them be present a Chairman shall be elected from the Past Masters who are present."
Thus, while the 1629 Charter makes no mention of Past Masters, (presumably on the assumption that a Master would hold office until he died) the 1956 Charter explicitly recognizes that they will continue to keep a fatherly eye on the activities of the WCSM once they have passed through the Chair. Indeed it would be a waste of hard gained experience were they to do otherwise.
Accordingly, the Court of Assistants was restructured in 2002, to allow four of their number to sit as "Assistants above the Chair".
The Court of Assistants acts as a Board of Directors, receiving reports from all the Company's committees (which should more properly be referred to as committees of the Court), as well as from the Master and Wardens and, occasionally, the Clerk. The Court tries not to concern itself with minutiae, but endeavours to remain focused on the policy and principles that it believes should shape the future of the Company.
Liverymen are invited to become Assistants after their suitability for the appointment has been agreed in open Court. No guarantee of accession to the Mastership is extended to them, until they have completed at least three years on the Court, and have been selected to serve on as Senior Assistants.
Responsibility for translating the policy laid down by the Court into action plans, and for deciding how those plans should be implemented rests with the committees of the Court. The number of these fluctuates as a need is identified, or considered no longer extant. Those currently in being are:
- The Finance Committee
- The Membership Committee
- The Qualifications Committee
- The Professorial Committee
Committees meet four times a year in order to submit a report to each meeting of the Court. Their chairmen are appointed by the Court, and are then free to co-opt whomsoever they wish to serve alongside them, or in ad hoc working groups. Again, however, the Court has the right to veto an appointment, and it will anyway ensure that at least one, often two, of its members are sitting on each committee.
Prior service on a committee is normally the sine qua non of appointment as an Assistant.
Where specialist professional knowledge is required, responsibility for executing the action plans agreed by committees rests with individual members of those committees: otherwise, it devolves to the Clerk and his only full time assistant, the Administrator.
The Clerk is the Company's Chief Executive, and is employed under contract. He attends all meetings of the Court and its committees, the Spectacle Makers' Society's committee, and of the trustees of the Spectacle Makers' Charity. He sets the agendas in consultation with the Master and the committee chairmen, and is responsible for coordinating all the activities of the WCSM.
As Masters (and chairmen) come and go, he is also in the unique position of being able to encourage continuity of purpose. However, he can only advise and encourage.
The Administrator is there to support the Clerk as required, although his primary function is to manage the Company's training programme.
Administration is almost the sole preserve of the Clerk and the Administrator, although the Company uses the consulting services of an accountant who, besides dealing with the book-keeping, also maintains the Company's membership database. He normally spends one day a week in the office in Apothecaries' Hall. Otherwise, the two permanent members of staff are left to maintain and update the Company's records, and attend to the minutiae of daily administration, which include:
- drawing up the Company's programme, looking at least two years ahead.
- coordinating its activities, including convening and minuting all Court and committee meetings.
- taking such follow-up action from committee meetings as does not call for specialist professional knowledge.
- planning and organizing the Company's functions.
- dealing with queries/problems posed by individual liverymen, freemen, students, employers and members of the General Public.
Spectacle Makers & The City Of London
The livery companies and the City of London have developed and adapted together over the centuries to sustain London's pre-eminence as a financial and business centre, and the companies' influence over the governance of the City can be traced back to the Saxon folkmoot and to the "Great Concourse" of the early Norman Kings. As London grew, its population, trade and craft industries expanded to such an extent that it was no longer possible for all Freemen to be directly involved in determining the evolving structure of local government. The direct involvement of Freemen in the government of London thus gave way to indirect government through the Masters and Wardens of their guilds and livery companies. The livery companies still provide the City with its 25 Aldermen, and they are responsible for nominating one of them each year to act as its presiding officer, the Lord Mayor of the City of London. Since 1475, Liverymen have also had the exclusive right to elect the City's Sheriffs.
Today, the formal link between the companies and the City is through the Livery Committee, which is first mentioned in 1782, although the forerunner of the present Committee began in 1864, and its present form was only established in 2002. Besides organizing and supervising the two annual meetings of Common Hall, the Committee's key tasks are:
- To maintain a close liaison with the Mansion House and Officers of the City of London Corporation on matters affecting the livery companies generally.
- To research and advise livery companies on current practice and to develop best practice generally.
- To act as a forum to which livery companies can bring matters of concern for discussion.
Each livery company has the periodic right to nominate members to sit on this Committee for a period of three years, and any liverymen may volunteer to serve on it. In short, membership of the WCSM offers the opportunity to contribute to the welfare of the Country by playing an active role in the governance of an area which is of vital importance to the national economy.
The first Spectacle Maker to hold office as Alderman was James Harmer (1833). He subsequently also served as Sheriff, but the Company had to wait until 1845 before it saw its first Lord Mayor, John Johnson. The Company was particularly heavily involved in City politics during the 1880s, when it "held" the Mansion House in 1880, 1882, 1883, 1884, 1885, 1886 and 1887!
Recent research has revealed that 32 men who were at one time or another members of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers have held the "ancient and honourable" office of Lord Mayor of the City of London. Others may yet emerge from the continuing research, but a distinction should be made between those for whom the WCSM was the "Mother Company" and the rest.
The following were not only first and foremost Spectacle Makers, but also Master of the Company:
- John Johnson (1845)
- Sir George Carroll (1846)
- Sir James Duke (1848)
- Sir William Rose (1862)
- Sir Benjamin Phillips (1865)
- Sir Thomas Dakin (1870)
- Sir Andrew Lusk (1873)
- David Stone (1874)
- Sir William McArthur (1880)
- Sir Robert Fowler (1883/85)
- Sir Polydore de Keyser (1887)
- Sir George Faudel-Phillips (1896)
- Lieutenant Colonel Sir Horatio Davies (1897)
- Sir Marcus Samuels (1902)
- Sir Bracewell-Smith (1946)
The following were first and foremost Spectacle Makers but, for one reason or another, never served as Master of the Company:
- Sir Henry Knight (1882)
- George Nottage (1884)
- Sir Joseph Renals (1894)
- Sir Frederick Hoare (1961)
The following Spectacle Maker Lord Mayors had other "Mother Companies", but still served as Master of this Company:
- Sir Reginald Hanson (1886) (Merchant Taylor)
- Sir Alfred Newton (1899) (Fan Maker)
- Colonel Sir Charles Wakefield (1915) (Haberdasher)
- Sir Horace Marshall (1918) (Stationer)
- Sir William Coxen (1939) (Cordwainer)
- Sir Frank Newson-Smith (1943) (Turner)
- Sir Cullum Welch (1956) (Haberdasher)
The following Spectacle Maker Lord Mayors not only had other "Mother Companies", but did not serve as Master of this Company:
- Sir Francis Moon (1854) (Stationer)
- William Cubitt (1860/61) (Fishmonger)
- Sir William Lawrence (1863) (Carpenter)
- Sir John Bell (1907) (Haberdasher)
- Sir William Dunn (1916) (Wheelwright)
- James Roll (1920) (Horner)
- Sir Alfred Bower (1924 (Vintner)
The WCSM might even claim a thirty-third Lord Mayor, Sir William Lawrence, who was Lord Mayor in 1863. However, he did not become a Spectacle Maker until 1880 and, while he was invited to become an Assistant ten years later, the minutes of every subsequent meeting of the Court noted that he was unable to attend to make the Declaration, until we get to 1897,
when it was recorded that he had died!
For further details of the Companies involvement with the governance of the City of London, please see Company History »
In common with all other Livery Companies, the WCSM has an annual programme of dinners and luncheons, the majority of which are held in London at the Company's home in Apothecaries' Hall, and all of which are designed to promote fellowship. Besides allowing the Company to offer hospitality to members of other liveries and to prominent persons in the City and the optical world, these occasions provide its own members with excellent opportunities to entertain their private guests, and to talk to their fellow liverymen and freemen about matters of professional and private interest.
The fact that 25% of the membership is deliberately recruited from outside optics ensures that conversation is broad in its topics and far-ranging in its scope.
However, much of the social life of the Company is conducted in less formal surroundings, and away from London. On first joining the Company, all freemen automatically become members of the Spectacle Makers' Society. In many other livery companies, the Society's function would be exercised by a "Livery Committee" but, by being a self-governing entity with its own accounts, it cannot be categorized as a committee of the Court. Nevertheless, the Court appoints two of its members to the Society's own Committee, and receives regular reports from them.
The Society's Committee organizes an annual programme of day and weekend visits to places of interest all over the Country, and occasionally overseas. The visits are advertised well in advance in the Company's six-monthly newsletter, "From the Master & Wardens" which is issued free to all members. They are an excellent means of widening Members' horizons, and, on some occasions, they provide access to places not normally open to visitors.
The Society also organizes and runs the WCSM's annual golf meeting, and is always looking for members to represent the Company in inter-livery competitions ranging from golf and sailing, through tennis and bridge, to clay pigeon shooting.
The Achievement Of Arms
Although incorporated by Royal Charter in 1629, it was not until 1950 that the Spectacle Makers' Company approached the College of Arms for a Grant of Arms. Prior to then, it had adopted two unofficial devices.
The earliest reference to the first of these appears in W. Maitland's "History of London", published in 1739. It is possible that this device of three pairs of spectacles on a green background was adopted, without authority, between the years 1629 and 1666, but unfortunately the records of that period were lost in the Great Fire. We can only presume that the device was depicted on the Company's seal that was reported lost in 1810. As that loss rendered the Company unable to purchase stock, the Court resolved to remedy the situation forthwith (but without any reference to the College of Arms) and, on 28 June 1810, it adopted what became known as the "pseudoheraldic device", which had been designed by Henry Lawson (Master 1803-04 & 1822-23). This device, which had a blue background, recognized the Spectacle Makers' involvement in scientific instrumentation by replacing the lowest pair of spectacles with a pair of dividers and a terrestrial globe, and adding a set of prisms on top. It may be seen today on the Upper Warden's badge.
It was not until 1949 that the Company opened negotiations with the College of Arms for an official grant. This was made on 18th September 1950, after a degree of argument, and is properly described as follows:
- Blazon: Vert a chevron or between three pairs of nose-spectacles proper framed of the second.
- Crest: On a wreath or and vert two arms embowed vested vert cuffed or the hands proper holding a sun in splendour within an annulet gold.
- Mantling: Vert doubled or
- Supporters: On either side a falcon proper belled or charged with a sword erect gules.
If you would like to join the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers or simply find out more about it and what it can offer you,
then please contact the Clerk by either:
The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers