The Carmen's Hall - the City of London's Youngest Livery Hall

New livery halls in the City of London are a very rare thing, rarer in fact than new Livery Companies, and they do not come along too often. As of summer 2022 only 110 livery companies exist, the greatest number since the earliest company was formed before the Norman Conquest. So news of a new livery hall in the Square Mile is rather special, and the newest hall is that of the Worshipful Company of Carmen.

I was delighted to be offered a sneak peak around the home and hall of the Carmen's Company in the summer of 2022 in advance of its official opening by HRH The Princess Royal next year. So come on in and let's explore a little of the history of the Company, the hall and the Carmen's Museum.

Carmen's Hall is located on Fleet Street adjacent to St Dunstan in the West.
Photograph © Paul D Jagger 

The Carmen's Company past and present

The Worshipful Company of Carmen received its Royal Charter in 1946, the 704th such charter since William I arrived on these shores, but the Company traces its origins back to 1517 and ranks 77th in the order of precedence. The Carmen's Company therefore takes its place as the youngest of the ancient companies rather than among modern livery companies. In this context 'modern' means all those companies formed since 1926 starting with the Honourable Company of Master Mariners who are 78th in order of precedence.

The Carmen's Company is well known in the City for its annual Cart Marking Ceremony held in Guildhall Yard, an event which I have written about in this previous blog article about after I was invited to attend as guest of one of the Company's Past Masters. This Cart Marking highlights the Company's historical role in regulating the vehicles (or Carrs) that entered the City of London with an early form of registration and inspection. Eagle eyed readers may spot the Carmen's mark on heritage vehicles in private collections and museums from time to time, yet the Company remains relevant and active in the 21st century.

Today the Carmen's Company is connected with the logistics / supply chain industries and road haulage trade. Many among the Company's membership are leaders and business owners in those allied occupations. The Company also maintains strong links with the Armed Forces, too numerous to explore in detail in this blog, but with representation among the logistics branches of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. Several Past Masters have been drawn from affiliated uniformed services units.

Some recent Masters of the Carmen's Company.
Photograph © Paul D Jagger 

Exploring the Hall

Carmen's Hall is located in the complex of St Dunstan in the West on Fleet Street at no. 186C in a Grade I listed building. The hall occupies part of the church's connected buildings that was once a mathematics school. The Carmen's Company has taken a 125 year lease on the premises and invested in extensive modernisation and refurbishment funded by the generosity of the membership. St Dunstan's has connections with numerous historical events and characters, including Samuel Pepys (Clothworker), William Tyndale, Isaak Walton (Ironmonger), Lord Baltimore and the Cordwainers' Company. 

HRH The Princess Royal served as Master of the Carmen's Company between 1986-87.
Photograph © Paul D Jagger 

Lord Levene of Portsoken, Lord Mayor 1998-99 is a Liveryman of the Company.
Photograph © Paul D Jagger 

Sweeney Todd's barber shop was supposedly sited next door to St Dunstan's and to this day City of London guides will often bring tourists to the adjacent light well in Hen and Chicken Court to tell the story of the infamous Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Opinions differ as to whether Sweeney Todd was a purely fictional character or based on an amalgam of real people and events, but based in fact or not the Clerk to the Carmen's Company assured me that Mrs Lovatt's pie shop in Bell Yard is not among the Company's approved catering providers. That said a previously unknown crypt piled with bones was found at the entrance to the hall not long after the Company took possession in 2017. 

On a more serious note, the hall is equipped for the needs of the 21st century Livery Company and is well suited as both an entertainment venue and location for business meetings. The hall has access to a full service kitchen, shared with the church, air conditioning throughout, and a dedicated servery / kitchenette adjacent to the main gallery room; the company has opted not to contract with a tied caterer. The gallery room is spacious, bright and provides flexibility for multiple uses from a Court meeting, to drinks reception (up to 60 standing) or formal dinner (up to 36 seated).

Recent developments in the revitalisation of the local economy on and around Fleet Street are ideally timed for the opening of this most westerly among the Livery Halls which is within a few minutes walk from the Royal Courts of Justice and the Inns of Court. Carmen's hall may not offer the scale or opulence of the grand halls of the Great Twelve, but it offers that unique City blend of ancient and modern in a prime location.

The hall is also accessible to those with impaired mobility with a passenger elevator to all floors large enough to accommodate wheelchairs. At the time I visited work was about to commence on a ramp to enable step free access to the building. The successful digital transformation undertaken by the City's livery companies has caused many to update their IT infrastructure and consequently the Carmen's hall provides all the networking and audio-visual facilities required for in-person and hybrid meetings, lectures, presentations and conferences.

Carmen's Hall is equipped for the digital era, and provides facilities for hybrid working.
Photograph © Paul D Jagger 

Treasures in the hall

Notwithstanding this modernity, the hall is also home to a wide array of the Company's treasures, including portraits of notable members of the Company such as HRH The Princess Royal (Master 1986-87), Lord Levene of Portsoken (Lord Mayor 1998-99) and Sir Christopher Leaver (Lord Mayor 1981-82). 

My eye was drawn to a number of fascinating objects including a centre piece in the form of an Alvis Stalwart high mobility amphibious truck, a vehicle I remember seeing in action as a child on a visit to the Armoured Corps Museum in Dorset. I was also impressed by a table clock in the form of the coat of arms of the Company - a usage of armorial bearings I have not seen before. Fellow heraldists might note the clock's casing should be golden in colour to be strictly in keeping with the arms of the Company, but it is a wonderful treasure all the same.

Centre piece modelled on an Alvis Stalwart high mobility truck as befits a Livery Company for the logistics industry. The Carmen maintain links with the Royal Logistics Corps.
Photograph © Paul D Jagger 

The Carmen's Clock - an innovative usage of the Company's coat of arms. The shield is a pair of doors that open to reveal a clock within.
Photograph © Paul D Jagger 

The Museum

The hall also has a growing museum of artefacts connected with the history of the Company and its allied trades, much of which reminded me of a similar collection held at the Whitewebbs Museum of Transport in Hertfordshire where connections to the Carmen's Company may also be found. The hall has a small collection of model road transport vehicles, including a model lorry of the J.Lyons company - a chain of cafes that were responsible for the development of the world's first business computer - Lyon's Electronic Office (LEO).

Fellow Information Technologist might be surprised to learn that J.Lyons introduced the world's first business computer: LEO (Lyons Electronic Office).
Photograph © Paul D Jagger 

A selection of various road transport models on display in the Carmen's Company museum.
Photograph © Paul D Jagger 

The museum also doubles as a reception room where drinks may be served prior to a formal dinner, and as the Company's collection grows it will certainly provide a wealth of talking points for members and guest alike. 

Engagement with Schools and Education

A visit to the Company's hall, and museum, offers the opportunity to strengthen engagement with education. With many leading practitioners in the industry among the Company's membership there is no shortage of expertise to draw upon for educational talks. Visits by several local schools have already taken place, and education sessions about the transport and logistics industry are key aims of the Company. Enquiries from schools, colleges, universities and trade bodies are welcomed by the Company.

In conclusion

While the hall is still to be formally opened, readers can get a glimpse of the building as it was in October 2017 when the Company took possession in this video on YouTube. The video opens with a look at the most ancient statue of Elizabeth I in London which is above the entrance to the hall. The refurbishment and updating of the Carmen's hall was almost complete when I visited and is now open for bookings by other livery companies and business clients. Enquiries may be made to the Clerk via the Company's website.

I'm looking forward to returning to the hall one day when I can experience the hospitality provided at this 'youngest' of the City's livery halls, albeit I have just learned that further hall may open this year... but that's a story for another blog article.

Good Queen Bess stands guard over the entrance to Carmen's Hall.
Photograph © Paul D Jagger 

Want to learn more about the Livery Companies and the City of London?

The City of London Freeman's Guide is the definitive concise guide to the City of London and its ancient and modern Livery Companies, their customs, traditions, officers, events and landmarks. Available in full colour hardback and eBook formats and now in its fifth or Platinum Jubilee edition. The guide is available online from Apple (as an eBook), Amazon (in hardback or eBook) Payhip (in ePub format) or Etsy (in hardback or hardback with the author's seal attached). Also available from all major City of London tourist outlets and bookstores. Bulk purchase enquiries are welcome from Livery Companies, Guilds, Ward Clubs and other City institutions and businesses.

Photo of the cover image of The City of London Freeman's Guide Platinum Jubilee edition featuring iconic images from the City of London and Her Majesty the Queen entering Drapers' Hall with the Master and Beadle
The City of London Freeman's Guide - Platinum Jubilee edition

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