Accessing the History of the Spectacle Makers

Many people meeting us for the first time assume that the Spectacle Makers’ Company is one of the “modern Liveries” founded in the 20th Century. This is not the case!

The Company was founded in 1629 at the petition of craftsmen from within the Brewers’ Company who had established their own trade and wished to have it protected and recognised. We know the names of the first Master and Wardens and the Clerk from the original Charter and some of the details of the lives of the members of the Company at that time from the Company’s rule book, the Book of Ordinances of 1630, but then there is a significant gap until 1666.

Like most of London, the Company suffered in the flames of the Great Fire of 1666. All the records, other than the Charter and the Book of Ordinances were destroyed. It is only thanks to the quick thinking of the Clerk, we believe, that these documents were carried safely away out of the City.

Digital copies will be available on this website in the near future. In the meantime, both the Charter and the Book of Ordinances are held with the London Metropolitan Archive and are available for public inspection by advance request to the Guildhall Library.

Click here to see photos of the 1629 Charter and details of its cost.

The Guildhall Library also holds all other important records of the Company including quarterage registers and minute books, including the first Minute Book of 1666, begun just after the Fire. If you wish to research the history of a member of your family who may have been a Spectacle Maker, the records in the Guildhall Library may be a good first port of call.

Whilst we are always sympathetic to requests, and take great delight in the stories of former members, the Spectacle Makers’ office has many demands on its time. We do not have a full time Archivist, nor are all our records catalogued and instantly accessible, so questions cannot be answered at the touch of a button. We can try to help if there is time available but the more information you can supply, the better.

For example, knowing that one’s great grandfather was an optician somewhere in London and wondering if he may have been a Spectacle Maker is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Details of the individual’s full name and birth and death dates, their qualifications, where he or she lived and practised and the dates of any certificates or information already held may help to generate more information.

The records of the Company within the last 30 years are held by the Clerk and are not made available to the general public.

View the Charter