Shaping artisanal and civic identities
in Crafting identities
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This chapter explores the ways in which adapted guild buildings shaped the experiences, identities, and behaviours of artisans and broader groups of urban inhabitants. It also considers how the performance of particular artisanal and civic activities impacted upon the meanings and significance of certain spaces. Notions of belonging, status, and hierarchy were articulated and experienced through institutional architectures. Further, conceptions of relative ‘secrecy’ and ‘openness’ were enacted and reinforced through the use and appropriation of company halls. This examination of the manifold ways in which built environments shaped guild communities, and how the users of company halls appropriated them, considers specific spaces such as galleries, parlours, kitchens, halls, assay houses, and domestic sites, as well as particular activities and cultural practices, like material testing and feasting. These highly ritualised activities derived significance from their performance in certain spaces, and in turn shaped the meanings and import of the rooms in which they were enacted. As artisanal company halls were expanded and beautified from the mid-sixteenth century, their users and visitors became increasingly conscious of how access, movement, and placement within these institutional spaces reflected upon personal and collective identities. Through their spatial organisation and ritualised uses, livery halls ordered bodies relationally according to social, gender, and generational differences. Privileged access to particular chambers, and witnessing of protected or ‘secret’ guild practices, signified and produced artisanal status. Additionally, proximity and contact with the treasured material apparatus of feasting rites worked to bolster status and hierarchies within the artisanal or mercantile guild.

Crafting identities

Artisan culture in London, c. 1550–1640

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