Chester has had trade guilds for 800 years. In a document dated 1190-1193, the Earl of Chester confirmed the citizens’ Guild Merchant. Individual craft companies, or guilds, later developed to protect the interests and welfare of the merchants and craftsmen of Chester.
Among the earliest guilds to emerge were the Tanners, who are first mentioned in 1361, the Weavers in 1399 and the Ironmongers and Carpenters in 1422. 19 Guilds are listed in a book of 1475-6.
In the Middle Ages the Guilds were very important to the life of the City. They encouraged trade, set wages, organised apprenticeships and work conditions and gave help to their sick or poor members.
The Guilds were also involved in the social life of Chester. They organised great events such as the Mystery Plays and the Midsummer Show.
Originally there was only one Guild, the Guild Merchant. During the Middle Ages each craft gradually set up its own Guild, to protect the interests of its own craftsmen.
Over the centuries, some crafts joined together to form larger Guilds. Few crafts were rich enough to stay independent. There were frequent disputes and Guilds often split up and joined up with other crafts.
Newer companies were formed for crafts such as the building trades which developed in the Tudor Period.
A few companies, such as the Fishmongers, no longer exist. Some trades, such as Fletchers and Bowyers, died out when the need for their products declined.
There are now 23 Chester Guilds, but few members now practice their company trade.