The company, by the aid of generous benefactors, looks well after the poor widows of clerks and the decayed brethren, bestowing upon them adequate pensions for their support in their indigence and old age. These benefactions entrusted to the care of the company, and the gifts by its members of plate and other treasures, show the affectionate regard of the parish clerks for their ancient and interesting associations, which has done much to preserve the dignity of the office, to keep inviolate its traditions, and to improve the status of its members.
[Illustration: A PAGE OF THE BEDE ROLL OF THE PARISH CLERKS’ COMPANY]
THE CLERKS OF LONDON: THEIR DUTIES AND PRIVILEGES
A brief study of the history of the Parish Clerks’ Company has already revealed the important part which its members played in the old City life of London. They were intimately connected with the Corporation. The clerks held their services in the Guildhall Chapel, and were required on Michaelmas Day to sing the Mass before the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and commoners before they went to the election of a new Lord Mayor. As early as the days of the famous Richard Whittington, on the occasion of his first election to the mayoralty, which as the popular rhyme says he held three times, we hear of their services being required for this great function.
In the year 1406 it was ordered that “a Mass of the Holy Ghost should be celebrated with solemn music in the chapel annexed to the Guildhall, to the end that the same commonalty by the grace of the Holy Spirit might be able peacefully and amicably to nominate two able and proper persons to be mayor of the City for the ensuing year, the same Mass, by the ordinance of the Chamberlain for the time being, to be solemnly chanted by the finest singers, in the chapel aforesaid and upon that feast.”
And when the Mass was no longer sung in the chapel of the Guildhall, they still chanted the Psalms and anthems before and after divine service and sermon, sometimes with the help of “two singing men of Paul’s,” who received twelvepence apiece for their pains; and sometimes the singing was done by a convenient number of the Clerks’ Company most skilful in singing, and deemed most fit by the master and wardens to perform that service.
They were in great request at the great and stately funerals of the sixteenth century, going before the hearse and singing with their surplices hanging on their arms till they came to the church. The changes wrought by the Reformation strongly affected their use. In the early years of the century we can hear them chanting anthems, dirige, and Mass; later on they sing “the Te Deum in English new fashion, Geneva wise—men, women and all do sing and boys.”