- [late 15th century]-1978 (Creation)
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Although a community of English merchants concerned with the export trade existed before this time, the Company of the Staple can be confidently traced back to 1359, when the first royal grant was issued giving the merchants unequivocal control of the export trade in staple commodities. In 1363 the "Community of the Merchant of the Staples" moved to Calais from Bruges and soon became known as the Mayor and Company of the Merchants of the Staple of England.
In order to ship wool to Calais a merchant had to be a member of the Company and to obey its ordinances. Admission could be gained through a three to four year apprenticeship or by purchase and by the end of the fifteenth century, nearly 400 men were members.
The Company enjoyed great wealth and controlled the English wool trade here until the loss of Calais in 1558, by which time changes in the English textile industry were also undermining their trade. Attempts to set up again at Bruges with the backing of a new royal charter did not restore their prosperity and this decline led the Company, anxious to emphasise its historical and national importance, to collect its documents, creating the register of royal grants found in this collection. In 1565 they also established an ordinance book to regulate their merchants' trading activities.
Moves between Bruges and Hamburg followed until in 1614 the export of English wool was forbidden and the Company was forced to seek a new role for itself. They established new ordinances and were allowed to trade wool within England. London continued to be their focus however, where they owned the Staple Inn and other property. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Company managed the supply of wool throughout England. In 1825, the export of English wools was once more allowed and overseas wool began to arrive in England, reducing the Company's importance as a wool-broker. Through the nineteenth century it functioned as a Livery Company of sorts meeting in London twice a year.
In 1928, with few remaining members, the Company was terminated and its records deposited in the British Museum. The records were discovered by Professor Rich in 1932, and his enquiries, with those of Mr Bernard Johnson, revealed that three members of the Company still existed, two of them in Yorkshire. There was support for reviving the Company at York and the Company began to meet twice a year there, and once in London. The Company continues to the present day.
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