City Livery Companies have been active in London for over a millennium with their origins in the Guilds that developed all over Europe. Early companies set wages, controlled standards and checked quality as well as training apprentices and controlling imports.

Early records of the Fan Makers have been lost but it is known that a Guild of Fannmakers existed during the reign of Charles II as evidenced by their petition to Parliament in 1670 concerning the threat from the importation of foreign fans. Parliament responded by imposing a duty on imported fans in 1672.

We know that fans were imported into England during the Elizabethan era and that the art of fan making was brought to these shores by French Huguenot craftsmen, initially in the late 1500s. However, the English fan industry in the 17th century was poor, badly organised and without recognition. It was the political events in France that changed that situation radically. In 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes which resulted in some 50,000 Protestant families leaving France for other European countries, not least England. They settled for the most part outside the City in Spitalfields, Soho and St Giles. Their skills lay mainly in domestic arts and manufacture: silk, crystal glass, jewellery, furniture, and fan making. Once established in their former trades they took on native apprentices and work people, and flourished, especially in fan making.

Nevertheless, it was not long before the unrestricted import of cheap foreign fans became a cause for serious concern. Because of this a petition was made to Queen Anne for the grant of a charter which established “The Master, Wardens, Assistants and Society of the Art and Mystery of Fannmakers of London and Westminster and Twenty Miles Round.”

Incorporated on 19th April 1709 the Fan Makers were then able to own property, set up seven-year apprenticeships and enforce legislation against imported fans themselves, the main and sustained threat to their existence through their history.

The Company structure was formed. A Master who oversaw two Wardens, the Free Warden who was responsible for controlling local fan making and the ‘free’ men and women undertaking the trade and the Foreign Warden, responsible for reducing the import of fans into London from elsewhere in the Country and abroad. He could also condemn fans not up to standard made in the Cities of London and Westminster and Twenty Miles around which would include, in time, the Royal College of Art near the Albert Memorial and The Fan Museum at Greenwich.

There was also a Court of Assistants to help the Master and Wardens, a Clerk who undertook the office administration and a Beadle who took the role of enforcer, monitoring the correct lengths of apprenticeships and checking memberships. All members had to be Freemen – people who could work for themselves and were not ‘serfs or villeins’. Freemen also qualified as Freemen of the City, allowing them the vote in Parliamentary and Civic elections, and free from ‘impressment’ into the Royal Navy.

In 1711 the Company drew up its first by-laws but they were failed by the Court of Aldermen. Because the by-laws of 1711 were lost with other documents, new ones were prepared in 1741, with little difference between the two (the original was discovered in a strong box in the City Chamberlain’s office in 1951).

In the early 1700s hundreds of thousands of fans were being imported by the East India Company from Canton in China, to the point where they flooded the market. They were made by untrained workers who received a pittance in return. Quality fans from Europe were also causing problems to the native fan makers; however, English fan makers produced high quality as well as printed fans and a number exported them into Europe.

Although early records have been lost it would appear that the Company admitted 43 members in 1709-10 which dropped to 20 in 1714-15, 10 the following year, and 8 by 1736. However, by 1747, the date of our first extant records, there were 839 members, with the 888th recorded in 1751. At its peak during this period, fan makers were qualifying from their apprenticeships at around 20 per year. Interestingly, some of these were women, including Anne Martin in 1749, who lived near Haymarket and later Sarah Ashton who was admitted in 1770 as she carried on the business in Little Britain after her husband died, publishing at least 13 engraved fan designs.

The period from 1750 until the end of the century was the high point of the fan’s use as an article of fashion but the Company still had to battle against cheap printed fans. To protect fan painters a duty was imposed on the printed leaves. In 1779, in a further attempt to protect the home industry, advertisements were placed in news sheets and hand bills were distributed but it is noticeable that between 1760 and 1784 the average number of apprentices being registered was just 4. By the end of the eighteenth century many fan makers were also haberdashers, carpenters, jewellers, pawnbrokers, engravers and stationers as foreign competition became overwhelming and alternative livings had to be taken on.

Although the company saw dwindling numbers in the latter 1700s it applied for Livery in 1809. A number of Companies had Livery – selected Freemen with business experience and personal wealth from whom Assistants, Wardens and Masters were chosen. This may have been because Liverymen were obliged to pay fees to the Company. One hundred years after their charter, on 20th June 1809 the Court of Aldermen granted 60 Liverymen to the Fan Makers. The Livery was scarlet gowns trimmed with fur for the Master and wardens, black gowns for the Assistants, and a black gown with fur trim for the Senior Past Master.

Although the Fan Makers’ Company continued through the nineteenth century, in spite of their best efforts the taste for Continental, especially French, fans continued unabated. So much so that at the Great Exhibition of 1851 there were no English fans on display. Although Masters and Wardens continued in office, by 1877 there were only 19 Assistants and 12 Liverymen.

In 1870, concerned at the plight of native fan makers, Queen Victoria donated £400 for prizes at a fan competition at the South Kensington Museum. There were 413 entrants and a number of fans loaned for exhibition. Although fans continued to be of interest and bought on the mass market, the Fan Makers’ Company continued its decline.

That was until 1877 when Sir Homewood Crawford was elected Master. London’s City Solicitor from 1885 until 1924, Crawford revitalised the company to the extent that he lobbied for, and was granted, an increase in the number of Liverymen from 60 to 200 on 18th February 1879, just two years after his election. During his year as Master the Court resolved to hold a competitive fan exhibition and John Sugden (who was to follow Crawford as Master in 1878) presented a Banner of the company arms. The exhibition’s committee comprised of many Masters to be and they successfully asked Princess Louise, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and a painter of fans herself, to be their Royal Patron. 1284 fans were shown in the Drapers’ Hall with prize medals in gold, silver and bronze being offered, along with cash and the Freedom of the Company to the winners. It was the start of the Company’s short renaissance.

In 1889 the event was repeated with sponsorships by newspapers and individuals but only 166 fans were entered. In the following year the Company tried again and achieved an entry of 600 fans but, as had been the case the previous year, there was no work of outstanding quality. There was, however, an indication of times to come; a mechanical fan which, in the form of a butterfly, flapped its wings.

In 1939 mechanical fans, especially those used in ventilation and air conditioning, and latterly in aircraft engines were added to encourage continued participation and modern relevance to the Company. Furthermore, the Company managed to maintain quarterly meetings throughout the Second World War, despite the Blitz and V1 and V2 rocket attacks.

After the war, in 1948, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, became an Honorary Freeman of the Fan Makers’ Company. She opened St Botolph’s Hall, Bishopsgate in 1952 as the new, permanent Hall for the Company for the next 40 years. Some £10,000 had been raised in subscriptions and the Company had renovated the neglected hall and improved its decor, including the ceiling and a specially commissioned carpet of fan design. Banners belonging to past Masters were displayed on the walls. Also in 1948 the Company elected its first Master (Donald Hughes) whose business was the manufacture of mechanical fans.

In 1953 the Company adopted 56 (London) Division, Signals Regiment of the TA. In the same year, a connection was established with Cranfield Institute through Liveryman Geoffrey Woods who initiated a prize for the best paper of the year on wind tunnel research.

In 1965 Woods, a manufacturer of industrial fans himself, became Master, and the Livery was increased from 200 to 250. Three years later, for the first time Fan Makers’ ladies were permitted at the Livery Dinner at the Mansion House during the Mastership of John Hughes.

1974 saw Master John Colin Gray set up a Livery Committee of nine members in order to allow younger Liverymen the opportunity to take a greater interest in the Company and manage events and visits and, as a result, raise funds for charity. Also in 1974, Princes Alice, Countess of Athlone gave 30 fans to the Company; their provenance as gifts to or from European Royalty makes them unique.

The following year was an important one for the Company. On 10th April 1975, the Duchess of Gloucester, formerly Princess Richard of Gloucester, became an Honorary Freeman of the Company. In November, under the second Mastership of Leslie Ross Collins, the Fan Circle International was inaugurated to ‘further the study and interchange of information on fans of all ages from all countries by means of lectures, exhibitions and visits, and through the publication of a newsletter’. The Company became a Patron of the Fan Circle, and since then each Master has represented the Fan Makers’ Company in the Circle.

A Founder Member of the Fan Circle International, Mrs Helene Alexander, helped establish the Fan Museum in Greenwich in 1986 and she was made a Freeman of the Fan Makers’ Company. This was during the Mastership of Michael Ross Collins, Leslie’s son. The Company became a founder patron of the Museum Trust. Mrs Alexander subsequently became an Honorary Liveryman.

1991 saw the grant of a coat of arms to the Company.

1992 was a difficult year; St Botolph’s requested the return of their Hall and the Company faced the prospect of looking for a new home. They were also obliged to leave behind many of the structural and decorative fittings they had contributed to the building over the years, such as boards of the Masters’ names. The Skinners (one of the Great Twelve Livery Companies, granted Charter by Edward III in 1327 and famous for the expression ‘at sixes and sevens’ as they vied with the Merchant Taylors for sixth place precedence) were looking for a new tenant at their Hall and thus it became the Company’s new home. Five months after the Company moved in, St Botolph’s Hall was severely damaged by an IRA bomb.

The following year, under the Mastership of John Hammond, the Company established links with Elizabeth Lansbury Nursery School in Docklands and in 1994 they adopted HMS Westminster at a special reception.

1996 saw three important landmarks: First, Andrew Seymour Collins became the tenth member of his family to serve as Master of the Fan Makers’ Company in a century; second, he confirmed sponsorship of No. II (AC) Squadron RAF; and third, the President of the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers was made an Honorary Freeman of the Company. Although the Company now, largely, looks to the modern fan for its future, it does not forget its past and its raison d’etre for maintaining and conserving a collection of over 250 ladies’ fans.

Fan Enterprises Ltd was established in April 1998 in order to sell the Millennium fan (which, ironically, was made in Spain because no English fan makers of that quality could be found in the country), and this started the Tercentenary Appeal.

In 2005 a major milestone was reached in the Company. HRH The Duchess of Gloucester was admitted as the Fan Makers’ first Lady Liveryman in modern times.

In 2009 the Company celebrated the Tercentenary of its incorporation as a Company. Our Royal Charter was the last to be granted to a Livery Company for nearly 300 years. Thus the Company rightly regards itself as the last of the ‘old’ companies because those which have followed have usually been incorporated by the City alone.