Newcastle Guild of Cordwainers

We have pleasure in sharing (with permission) this piece of research focusing on the records of the Newcastle Guild of Cordwainers (boot and shoemakers). Our client is a freeman and a member of the Company of Cordwainers of Newcastle upon Tyne. She was keen to discover when the first of her family members was made a freeman and who that person was. It proved to be a fascinating piece of research.

Newcastle Guild of Cordwainers report Discovering Heritage

What was a Guild?

Guilds were trade organisations made up of men working in a single trade. There have been guilds or companies in Newcastle from medieval times.

What did it mean to be one of the Freemen of Newcastle?

Full guild members were granted freedom of the town. Freemen were involved in the commercial and political life of Newcastle at the highest level; a situation that remained until the 19th-century. Freemen formed the Town Corporation (or Council) until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 introduced elections. Freedom also brought privileges to members, notably the right of herbage to graze cattle on the Town Moor.

How Did People Become Guild Members?

Three ways of gaining membership to a guild or company were

  • by apprenticeship (serving as an apprentice to a master of the guild),
  • by inheritance (entering the guild at the age of 21 as the son of a freeman)
  • by invitation (usually reserved for those supposed who could bring influence to the guild).

Freemen of Newcastle did not admit women until 2010. (Tyne & Wear Archives Service hold records on the Cordwainers Guild).

Studying The Guild Minute Books at Tyne & Wear Archives

Our client knew that her father, Ralph Thompson, was a guild member, but did not know of any family guild members before him. We began our research by looking through the sixth guild minute book, 1916-1978 (GU/CW/2/6) to find the admission of her father, Ralph Thompson.

We discovered that Ralph was the son of John Ralph Thompson who was admitted to the cordwainers guild on 12 May 1930. This reference to Ralph’s father suggests that he became a member of the guild by patrimony (because his father was a member); in other words, John Ralph was also a guild member.

We then looked through the fifth guild minute book, 1844-1915 (GU/CW/2/5) and found a reference to the admission of John Ralph Thompson, also by patrimony. The entry refers to the admittance of John Ralph, son of Robert Thompson to the Cordwainer’s guild on 28 May 1883. Robert Thompson was our client’s great grandfather.

Three Robert Thompsons!!!

The research then became more complicated. Searching further back through the guild minute books, we were able to find three possible entries of the correct period referring to the admission of Robert Thompsons, all with different fathers.

Entries were:

“26 January 1831 Robert Thompson late apprentice to William MacDougal, a free Brother of this Company was this day admitted to the freedom of the same …”

“25 August 1835 Robert Thompson son of John Thompson as a free brother of this company was this day admitted to his freedom in the same …”

“Robert, son of Richard Thompson, publican, of Newcastle, was apprenticed to William MacDougall, Cordwainer, of Newcastle, for seven years from 9 June 1823.”

At this stage, we were unsure which of the above entries referred to our clint’s great grandfather Robert Thompson. We, decided to consult, the 1871 census for help. The census indicated that Robert Thompson was born in Longbenton about 1815.

Last Will & Testament

We were able to locate and purchase a copy of Robert Thompson’s will thinking that it may provide details of family relationships that would support our research, which proved to be the case.

When the will arrived, we were able to see that it referred to two brothers of Robert Thompson – Ralph & John this led us to the next step in our research.

Newcastle Guild of Cordwainers research will portion Robert Thompson
Will of Robert Thompson

Related Articles

Longbenton Parish Records

We looked for Robert Thompson’s baptism record in Longbenton parish records. We found the baptism record of Robert, son of Richard Thompson, pitman, and his wife, Jane (nee Speedy) dated 8 April 1810. At this point, we had found our client’s great, great grandfather, Richard and linked him to the third contender in our list of possible ancestors.

The baptism entry records show that Robert was born on 24 February 1810. We were also able to find baptism records of six siblings to Robert, including brothers Ralph (baptised 1819) and John (baptised 1821). Although there is some discrepancy between the birthdate suggested in the census records and that given on the baptism entry, this is not unusual. There are often discrepancies with birthdates as indicated on census returns. During the period in question, this was the only baptism record of any child named Robert Thompson in the Longbenton parish records. We felt confident that we had found the correct entry because we also found the listings of known siblings.

Pitman and Publican

Interestingly the baptism entry records Richard Thompson, Robert’s father, to be a pitman yet the guild records record his occupation in 1823 to be a publican. It is not uncommon to see an occupation change and Robert himself had links to the public house trade. His will revealed that he was the owner of The Ravensworth Arms in Sandgate, Newcastle.

Newcastle Guild of Cordwainers research report by Discovering Heritage
Discovering Heritage Illustrated Report

Finding the baptism entry proved to us that Robert Thompson son of Richard was apprenticed to William MacDougall, Cordwainer, in 1823 and was admitted to the Cordwainers guild in 1831 having completed his apprenticeship. We had found the first Thompson family member to become a freeman of the town of Newcastle upon Tyne. Our client is the fourth generation member of the Newcastle Cordwainers Guild.

Discovering Heritage Research

The above is a summary of the research we have undertaken. In addition, we were able to find family members referred to in a variety of sources – civil registration records, directories, parish records and wills and were able to build up detailed profiles of family members. We presented our research in an illustrated report with additional ancestor profiles to provide a verified keepsake for the family.

As a postscript to our research, we discovered that our client has in her possession an apprentice piece boot made by Robert Thompson in 1830. She was previously unaware of the significance of the piece created by the first generation of her family to become a freeman. An apprentice piece was a miniature piece made by an apprentice to demonstrate the skills that he learnt during his apprenticeship.

Newcastle Guild of Cordwainers apprentice boot Piece.

For further information about the freemen of Newcastle see

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This research earned us a 5 star review on Google.

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One thought on “Newcastle Guild of Cordwainers

  1. A. Protchard says:

    Your research of people, families, buildings , organisations and institutions are so so interesting!

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