Becoming a London Goldsmith in the Seventeenth Century: Social Capital and Mobility of Apprentices and Masters of the Guild
By Raphaelle Schwarzberg
London School of Economics Working Papers, 2010
Abstract: Social capital has been used to describe the links between guildsmen in pre-industrial times. However, contemporary historical research has shown that both English society and the guilds displayed more openness to newcomers than had been previously thought. This new perspective however does not preclude the use of social ties by individuals to gain a competitive advantage, as potential apprentices to find a master, or as Freemen to climb the ladder of power within the guilds.
This dissertation will enquire into what type of social capital was used and by whom predominantly in the Goldsmiths’ Company. It rests on the creation of a new data set of fifty-seven masters who practiced their trade in the second half of the seventeenth century. Social capital will be analyzed according to geographical proximity, occupational proximity and kinship as they manifested in social networks. Results indicate that on the one hand, the Goldsmiths’ Company was on the whole open to individuals with no previous contacts through geographical proximity, occupational proximity or kin. The openness must however be nuanced with respect to the rural and poor apprentices as well as women. On the other hand, internal mobility within the guild highly depended on the belonging to a sub-group of goldsmiths who were practising banking activities. These findings confirm the recent literature on openness but bring new light to the processes of mobility and social capital within the guild of the London Goldsmiths’ Company.